Dr. Alex Shlanta Astronomical Observatory
Star Party for 3rd Grade Gateway Elementary Students
September 18, 2006
by Alex Shlanta
A Star Party was held at the Cerro Coso College Observatory on Friday 15 September 2006 for the 3rd grade classes of Virginia Weisz and Paige Sorbo. About 50 students and parents attended the event and they were an enthusiastic group. The weather defied the forecast and presented a real challenge for the outing. It was 63 deg F, partially cloudy, with a wind WSW at 25 mph, and gusts into the 30's. Needless to say, the wind precluded the use of telescopes. I was thinking about canceling the Star Party when the Gateway elementary group appeared at the College. But, I noticed they all were so eager and I just couldn't let them down. So, a variation on the star party theme was carried out and it proved to be effective. China Lake Astronomical Society members Chuck Morgan and Peter Eiserloh assisted me with this somewhat different kind of Star Party.
The Star Party commenced with my using a green laser pointer and pointing out some of the primary Constellations that could be seen. Indicated were the big dipper in Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle of stars, Northern Cross in Cygnus, the Square of Pegasus, and the Andromeda Constellation. A few stories and anecdotes accompanied this sky tour. Then the group was walked through a model of the solar system with stakes in the ground spaced to represent the relative distances between planets. When we stopped at each stake the group was told some of the characteristics of that planet. We talked about there being only 8 planets now with Pluto, Eris (2003 UB 313), and Ceres being in the Dwarf planet category. Finally we walked over to the 3 domes that were open in the observatory compound and let the 3rd graders take an up-close look at the telescopes inside the domes. Chuck demonstrated how to use the Orion 12-in Dobsonian mount reflector and had them look down at the mirror. Then he went to the Meade 12-inch LX200 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on a fork mount. The students particularly liked it when he controlled the motion of the LX200 with the hand controller. Peter then demonstrated the Cave 10-inch reflector on an equatorial mount and the use of a finder.
The teachers Virginia Weisz and Paige Sorbo told me that they were pleased with the Star Party. Now that their students had some background they would like to come back with them again in the springtime to do some actual looking through telescopes at celestial objects.