Maxwell Air Force Base

April 18, 2008

Reading Under the Stars

Mellisa Mullin, reading teacher for Maxwell AFB Elementary School, was our host for an event that coincided with their School Book Fair called “Reading Under the Stars”.  Mellisa wrote to ask if we would be interested in setting up some of our telescopes.  The students brought books, sleeping bags, flashlights, tents, etc. and set up in the dark to read under the stars.  They also had fire pits for roasting marshmallows and smores.  

We had planned to view the Moon and Saturn with the telescopes, but an overcast sky allowed only a few brief glimpses of the Moon.  Frank and Russell tried to wait it out, but a light rain put an early end to the star gaze.  Thanks to Mellisa for inviting us.  We'll try again another day when the skies are better.

A would-be star gazer patiently waits.

Frank Ward tries to explain why the telescopes can't see through the clouds.


February 9, 2006

Maxwell Elementary Star Gaze Redux
Aaron Wilson

Major Aaron Wilson provided a short notice “encore” telescope presentation at Maxwell AFB Elementary.  Teacher Ms. Caroll Lewis attended the previous week’s Star Gaze and requested a presentation to the entire 5th grade science class (another 33 students) on 9 Feb from 1230p-1:30pm.  Again, it covered telescope basics and numerous questions were asked and answered (as best as possible in some cases!).  One inquisitive girl asked “how do astronomers find other planets around other stars?”  Of course, one way is by measuring the very subtle dimming of a star as a planet pass in front of it (demonstrated with a handy flashlight and a marble).  Another way is to observe the “wobble” of a star caused by an orbiting mass.  One willing volunteer helped demonstrate this wobble by holding a 10lb counterweight at arm’s length and spinning in place, making sure to stop before becoming too dizzy!  The students seemed to enjoy the presentation and looking through the telescopes… and the school teachers expressed their gratitude for the support from the Auburn Astronomical Society. 


February 2, 2006

Maxwell Elementary Star Gaze
Aaron Wilson

The visit to Maxwell AFB Elementary School on 2 Feb 2006 turned out to be a great success for thirty-four students from the Advanced Program for Grades 1-6.  The forecast called for rain and clouds late into Thursday night, so we cancelled the planned outdoor star gaze and would conduct classroom activities instead.  AAS member Aaron Wilson (a major assigned to the base) met with Advanced Program teacher Ms. Becky Hill at 2:30pm to set-up the auditorium’s projection system and inflatable planetarium.  Thirty-four well-behaved and very bright students were escorted in at 3pm by six parents and teachers to start things off. 

Maj Wilson explained a brief history of telescopes, design, and how astronomers (both ancient and today) use binoculars and visual telescopes for different purposes.  Many students willingly jumped right in with great questions like “is the Hubble Space Telescope a reflector?”, how to magnify/zoom with eyepieces and other lenses (Barlow), and how filters work.  It was still cloudy outside, so students were treated to a view of the clock at the back of the auditorium through 10x50 binoculars, an 80mm refractor @ 60x, and 8” SCT at 300x.  They quickly understood why 300x isn’t always better as faded image shook at the slightest touch of the telescope. 

After a short break, the students split into two groups.  The younger group practiced making their own rudimentary telescopes with a pair of magnifying glasses and also made some cardboard constellations with glow in the dark paint.  The older group joined Maj Wilson in the 20’ inflatable planetarium where they learned about the North Star, pointer stars, and seasonal constellations.  They also listened to the Greek legends of Orion and his two dogs, the Seven Sisters, Taurus, Peruses, Cassiopeia and Pegasus, and the American Indian traditional story of Ursa Major (the Big Bear). 

Pizza arrived around 5pm, as well as a very welcome surprise:  CLEAR SKIES!  While students and parents enjoyed pizza and shared their constellation stories, Maj Wilson quickly moved equipment outside to look at the crescent Moon, Saturn’s rings and moons, and Mars.  Students and parents took their turns looking at each through the binoculars and 8” SCT.  Upon viewing each object they exclaimed a universal remark:  “THAT’S SO COOL!!!!”  Maj Wilson also answered several questions from parents regarding buying telescopes as well as some interest in the Auburn Astronomical Society.  By 6:30pm, parents began arriving to pick-up students… and as if on cue the clouds re-appeared over the school and closed the sky viewing session.  As they left, you could hear students excitedly describing their evening to parents.  One or two even asked about buying a telescope for their birthday! 

In the end, it turned out to be a great success and perhaps someday one of these bright youngsters will make the next incredible discovery in space!

PS:  Special thanks to LtCol Pat Moylan, Major Bill Holt, Russell Whigham, and Wayne Martin for offering to help out.  Perhaps we’ll organize another base star gaze in the near future (and hopefully the weather will be a little more predictable).

Aaron Wilson 


February 18, 2002

Maxwell  Star Party
Submitted by Tom McGowan

On Monday, February 18, 2002, club members Russell Whigham, Jim Locke, Mark Brown, Jim McLaughlin, Julie McGowan and Tom McGowan met at Maxwell Air Force Base to treat the residents to a celestial show. Views of Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and the Orion nebula were enjoyed by all. We had good skies. For many people, this was their first time looking thru "real" telescopes. Everyone was delighted to be able to view such beautiful sights as I had much feedback thru-out the week. They expressed many thanks to the club members for taking the time to share with them. I receive many drawings from the kids as well as letters. Here is a particular letter I wish to include:

"We Really enjoyed "gazing at the stars" last night. It was an experience that Cody and I will never forget. Thank you so much for your time, effort and thoughtfulness--- and for caring so much about our kids in the community! 
                God Bless! 
                        Jem, Sherie and Cody  " 

This is one of the main reasons we should continue to participate in Public Star Parties. Many people don't have the equipment and knowledge to see for themselves but do have the wonder and interest of the heavens. And it is us, the club members, who can make the skies accessible to them. Who knows how we may influence these people-especially the children, to open up a new window of discovery for them. I like to think that their exposure to the skies from a star party will always be in their memories and may be the catalyst for some to further their interest in astronomy. And all it costs us is the time of one evening. 

Many thanks to the club members for contributing their time to make this happen! 

Tom McGowan, 

January 21,2002

This event was organized by Tom McGowan for the families who live along  his Maxwell Air Force Base, on-base housing, mail route.  Tom asked your editor to lend a hand, knowing that this is one of my favorite aspects of the hobby.  On January 21,2002, we set up Tom’s 20-inch, his 8-inch, and my C-11 in an open area near where most of the families lived.  We estimated something close to 75 moms, dads, and children – several quite knowledgeable about both the night sky and telescopes, viewed the Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter.  One of the families brought their own 3-inch refractor, while another manned Tom’s 8-inch for the other families.