Family Star Night – Barton Hills Elementary 2013
Outreach events are always a fun time, especially when they involve youngsters. It turned out to be a cloudy night for the Family Star Night event at the Barton Hills Elementary school. There were plenty of indoor activities for the guests to enjoy such as the Austin Mobile Planetarium, a display by the International Dark Sky Association and astronomical talks. The weather didn’t prevent a couple of us from setting up our telescopes outside for everyone to enjoy, however. The president of the Austin Astronomical Society, Joyce Lynch and her husband, Jim, showed up with a telescope and I brought a 102mm refractor along with a couple of binoculars and an assortment of other visual aids such as books, a planisphere, Rükl Atlas, and sketches. Our contact for this outreach event, Becky, was terrific and made us feel very welcomed. I was certainly thankful for the warm cup of hot chocolate and munchies she provided as well as her hospitality.
The students and their families started arriving between 6-6:30PM and made their way inside to enjoy the mobile planetarium and other indoor activities. Once they made their way outside, there were just a few brief glances at the moon before it became nearly 100% overcast. The children insisted on looking through the eyepiece with excitement, nevertheless. It turns out that bringing the Rükl Atlas was a good decision as a group of children and their parents gathered around me and my telescope as I opened up the atlas and explained how it’s used for identifying features on the Moon. There were many questions that followed which lead to discussions on maria, dorsa, what craters are and how they were formed, domes, rimae, lunar phases and also sketching the Moon.
The binoculars were a hit and many of the kids tried their hand at looking at houses and trees further away and were given crash courses on focusing. They were explained how a refractor works and how there are specialized filters and telescopes that allow us to even observe the Sun. The students were full of questions about asteroids, orbits, the Milky Way, our solar system and gravity.
One of the highlights of my night, however, was showing an eager young girl how to use my planisphere. She was able to hold it over her head and tell me where various constellations would be if the skies were clear. After showing her just once how to use it, I fabricated a date and time and she successfully rotated the overlay to show the constellations and their locations. My hopes are that she’ll become a budding young astronomer and spend many hours with her father enjoying the night skies. It truly warms my heart during those special moments with the children and their parents. Thank you Barton Hills Elementary for providing such a wonderful experience for all involved!