3 September 2019

Guided Star Gazing

Posted by Shane Hanlon

Outreach during STEM day at a local elementary school in Navarre, FL. Credit: Jennifer Woll

By Lauren Rogers

I am a classroom teacher and am also a member of a local astronomy club. We do lots of public events, but my favorite events are those I put on for my students and their families.

I plan ahead what I’ll plan to show them: the moon, planets, double stars or easy-to-find clusters. Most people who come to our events have little/no knowledge of astronomy. This is where knowing your audience is crucial. While showing off the Andromeda galaxy might be exciting to people with an astronomical background, most see a slight blurry smudge and are not so impressed. After years of Hubble pictures on the internet, they have ideas in their mind of what galaxies are to look like. Though the thought of looking at a galaxy through my 14” telescope seems exciting at first, the Hubble it is not.

I  start the evening with a green laser guided sky tour. I trace out some easy to spot constellations. We talk about zodiac constellations first, since most of the public have some experience/knowledge of those. I pass out red flashlights and star charts to let everyone follow along.  We talk about the different constellation drawings you might see in different books or star charts and how some constellations are large and easy to find, while others are much less obvious. Next, I bring out my iPad and show them Star Walk or a similar app they can use on their own devices to start learning their way around the night sky.

Finally, equipment time! I have 3 telescopes and a couple pairs of binoculars. I set each one to view some easily-spotted object. Once everyone has had a chance to look through each scope, I encourage the students to start trying out the equipment. I teach many “at-risk” students, and it never ceases to amaze me how students who have never shown the slightest bit of enthusiasm for school can be transformed into mini-geeks in the span of a couple of hours. They change eyepieces, moving from scope to scope in short order.  The next day at school, it’s all they can talk about.

Amateur astronomers can only keep the hobby going by sharing our amazing universe with others; I want to share all I can with anyone willing to listen.

-Lauren Rogers, M.S., M.Ed., is an astronomy instructor at Pensacola State College and member of the Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association.