Saturday, October 11, 2008

Outreach at McCormick Observatory

Last night (Oct 10th, 2008) I operated the 26" Clark refractor at McCormick Observatory for a pair of groups. One was a group of school kids, and the other was Brownie Scouts. They all were 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders. There might have been a couple 5th graders there, I couldn't tell exactly. This is the sort of outreach I like best. There's nothing quite to compare with sitting at the eyepiece of a giant telescope like that and talking to kids about what they're seeing. 

This picture is from a couple years ago. It shows how frakkin' large the Clark is!

I went through my spiel over and over again: "This is Jupiter, the largest planet we have in our solar system. You'll see 4 little dots of light in a row, 2 on the left and 2 on the right. One of the dots on the left is really close to the planet. The names from left to right are Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Io. Io looks like a pizza when you're up close in a spacecraft because it has volcanoes that spew out sulfur and the moon is colored red & yellow from it. The red is like tomato sauce and the yellow is like cheese!" 

Then while the kids were listening to a presentation by Dr. Wilson of UVa, I slewed the scope over to Uranus and said stuff like: "The light from Uranus has travelled for 2 1/2 hours to get here. So light left the sun, bounced off the atmosphere of Uranus, then travelled all the way here for that long a time, passed through the lenses of the telescope and went 'splat!' in your eye!"

I told them that in 4th grade they'll hear all about the planets from their teacher, Venus, Mars and all. When the teacher mentions Uranus you can raise your hand and say "I've seen Uranus up at McCormick Observatory in the giant telescope there. The light took 2 1/2 hours to get here from there!" Your teacher will be amazed!

These little bits of verbal blather always get the kids interested in what they're seeing and really make the evening something special. I'm a real EPO (Education & Public Outreach) junkie, I just can't get enough of it. That's what gets me up in the morning.

If you ever find yourselves in the Charlottesville, Virginia area on a Friday night, be sure to go up to McCormick Observatory to see the show. On the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month it's open to the general public (free of charge) and telescope viewing will happen if it's clear. On the 2nd & 4th Fridays we at CAS operate the scope and give the presentation for school groups, scout troops and such. Last night was an exception as Dr. Wilson had a daughter in the scout troop.


Starr Astronomer said...

Nice blog so far ! I likke it.

re:This is the sort of outreach I like best. There's nothing quite to compare with sitting at the eyepiece of a giant telescope like that and talking to kids about what they're seeing.

Observing education is my best i like. So much amazing joys astronomy brings so I try to help
people enjoy it as much as possible. The whole point of my blog. keep it going !!

Nicole said...

Sounds like it was a blast! I bet the kiddies also loved the moving chair... they always do.

Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum said...

You know, I think I get as much out of all this as the kids do! When I do it I'm a kid again myself!
Thanks for the comments! I've linked to both your blogs just now,

Ivan3man said...

What?! No "Ur-anus" jokes from the kiddies?

Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum said...

No, -I- do all the your anus jokes! A cheap laugh is still a laugh, I always say! I keep it light and do a lot of joking to get the kids attention.