The Auburn Astronomical Society was invited to host a star gaze for eighty-five fifth graders from St. James Elementary School, in Montgomery, during their annual Science Camp at Camp ASCCA on Lake Martin. Josh Rhodes, Camp ASCCA's Director of Environmental Education, had written to express his desire to incorporate astronomy into their program, and asked that we lend our expertise on Thursday evening, April 30, 2006.
Perhaps because of the distance or this was a mid-week event, only Russell, who had the week off, was able to represent AAS. Fortunately, Russell was able to press his wife, Cathy, and daughter, Suzanne, who was visiting from out of town for the week, into service.
When we arrived, Josh took us on a tour of the camp and offered several sites for setting up the telescopes. He then invited us to join them in the dining hall for supper.
Josh divided the group of students and parents into two groups -- half viewing a video in the Oscar Dunn Environmental Center, while the others reported to the ball field for the astronomy program. As soon as it was dark, the first group were able to track a satellite across the sky and see a very young (one-day-old) Moon. We then described the different optical and mechanical configurations for the telescopes on display.
The students then learned how to identify the Big Dipper, locate the North Star, and recognize the bright spring constellations, and find Saturn. The students then queued up for the eyepiece experience. First they viewed Saturn and its brighter moons, and later the Orion Nebula. Although this was her first time with the telescope, Suzanne located both of the above with the 8-inch, so the students could compare views. As a fourth grade teacher, this was a busman's holiday for her, but she really helped in assisting the campers. Cathy also instructed the first time observers as to eye placement and prompted them to seek out detail in the eyepiece. Special thanks to both of the conscripts.
Orion was "in the trees" by the time the second group arrived, so we substituted the open star cluster, M-35.
Students, teachers, parents, and camp staff all seemed to enjoy the evening and expressed their appreciation.