Scout Troop 605 Astronomy Merit Badge Stargaze

On Saturday, March 16, we had a stargaze for Wetumpka Boy Scout Troop #605 in a large pasture owned by Ron and Melissa Welch, located between Wetumpka and Eclectic.  Our contact, Randy Smithson, estimated about 10 scouts plus several parents.  Randy had written back in December requesting our help with the merit badges.  The night sky was worth the wait.  Special thanks to Ron Welch for risking life and limb to cover an offending security light in a stiff breeze.

Comet Pan-STARRS was the early target.  Sunset was just before 7:00PM CDT, with comet searching beginning about 7:30.  As the sky darkened, the comet was spotted and everyone was able to see it with binoculars and follow it into the horizon.

AAS volunteers for the evening were:

  • Tracy Sprankle, Wetumpka, 10-inch Orion Dobsonian
  • Robert Fuller, Alex City, ETX90 & 15x70 binoculars 
  • Frank Ward, Montgomery, 12-inch Lightbridge 
  • Rodger Morrison, Prattville, 10-inch Newtonian and 15x70 binoculars 
  • Russell Whigham, Montgomery, 11-inch SCT 
  • John Ziegler, Montgomery, binoculars
Our hosts, Randy Smithson and David Coleman, Scoutmaster for Troop 605, had sent us a list of the scouts' goals for the evening:
A three hour observation session is just one of many requirements (mostly scout study or research).  Here are some for the astronomers to be mindful of while at our session. 

Explain what light pollution is and how it and air pollution affect astronomy. 

Observe a planet and describe what you saw. 

List the names of the five most visible planets. 
Explain which ones can appear in phases similar to lunar phases and which ones cannot, and explain why. 

With the aid of diagrams (or real telescopes if available), do each of the following: 

  • Explain why binoculars and telescopes are important astronomical tools. 
  • Demonstrate or explain how these tools are used. 
  • Describe the similarities and differences of several types of astronomical telescopes. 
  • Explain the purposes of at least three instruments used with astronomical telescopes. 
  • Describe the proper care and storage of telescopes and binoculars both at home and in the field. 
  • Identify in the sky at least 10 constellations, at least four of which are in the zodiac. 
  • Identify at least eight conspicuous stars, five of which are of magnitude I or brighter. 
Among the actual objects observed were:

Comet Pan-STARRS
5-day old Moon
Bright star and constellation identification

Difusse Nebula
M-42 Orion Nebula; 1,344 light years

Open Clusters
M-44 open cluster, Beehive Cluster; 577 light years [Binoculars]
M-45 open cluster, Pleiades; 440 light years [Binoculars]
M-41 open cluster; 2,300 light years

NGC-2392 Eskimo Planetary Nebula; 2,870 light years

Gamma Andromedae, “Almach”

M-65, spiral galaxy; 22 million light years
M-66, spiral galaxy; 36 million light years 
NGC-3628; spiral galaxy; 35 million light years
M-104 elliptical galaxy; 29 million light years “Sombrero”
M-51, spiral galaxy; 23 million light years “Whirlpool”

In addition to the visual observations, Rodger gave a demonstration of astro-imaging as the scouts watched the Orion Nebula display on the LCD screen of his DSLR camera.

Thanks to all for a very enjoyable evening under the stars.