Thursday, 11 November 2010

FIELD TRIP - ASTRONOMY WORKSHOP - "Starlight, Starbright ... I See The Stars..."

"It was a braw bricht moonlicht nicht" and Alisdair and Isobel and I were out in the fresh air gazing upward at the moon and stars.  (For non-Scottish readers the translation is a 'pleasant/good bright moonlight night.)

Although it was a chilly November evening, the Lloydminster Homeschool Association arranged a presentation on astronomy, which was held at the Reinhart's acreage, just outside of Lloydminster on Wednesday, the tenth.  Fourteen families participated in the event.  We were asked to bring snacks, lawn chairs, our questions, a desire to learn, and $30.00 to help cover the costs of the workshop.  We were also warned to wear warm clothing as we would be outside in an open field for a while!

As Therese later explained, summer is the best time to hold an astronomy workshop (as far as the weather is concerned) but most folk do not want to stay up very, very late to view the skies.  In the winter, although participants have to put up with the cold, they can begin viewing in the early evening and watch as the various elements progress across the backdrop of the sky.

The fun began at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation given by Glen and Therese McDonald of Derwent, Alberta.  Glen is an avid star watcher and has been taking his astronomy hobby very seriously for about ten years.  The McDonalds have offered Astronomy Workshops for some time and Glen enjoys imparting his knowledge to others and sharing the view from his 14-inch telescope (named FRED!).  FRED weighs approximately 200 pounds and was purchased for about $5,000.00. 

Glen McDonald, searching for a prop.
Since FRED, and the other equipment necessary for the presentation, is bulky to move, Glen uses a trailer behind his vehicle to take it from place to place.  The white trailer also doubles as a screen upon which to project his computerized slide show of the planets and other heavenly bodies.  He spoke of craters on the moon, showed comets, nebula and many other formations that occur in the skies.

Alisdair and Isobel (foreground) and some of the crowd.
The Lloydminster Homeschooling Association provided the fixings to make hot chocolate and some folk brought homemade cookies.  We took a dozen doughnuts from Tim Hortons as our contribution, and they were quickly devoured. 

Glen focused his telescope at the waxing moon (crescent).  Approximately 25% of the moon was illuminated and it looked something like this photograph:

Waxing Crescent Moon
According to "the sun always illuminates the half of the moon facing the sun (except during lunar eclipses, when the moon passes through the earth's shadow). When the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, the moon appears "full" to us, a bright, round disk. When the moon is between the earth and the sun, it appears dark, a "new" moon. In between, the moon's illuminated surface appears to grow (wax) to full, then decreases (wanes) to the next new moon. The edge of the shadow (the terminator) is always curved, being an oblique view of a circle, giving the moon its familiar crescent shape.

At this point in the evening, many folk lined up to take a look at the moon.  It was advancing across the horizon and soon disappeared from view.  Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied getting hot chocolate and supervising a bathroom break, so we missed the opportunity to look up at the moon!  And, for Isobel, the trampoline was almost as exciting as looking through the telescope.  Lots of kids to jump with, equals lots of fun!

Trampoline Fun!

When observing the moon was no longer an option, Glen turned his telescope towards the planet JUPITER. I got a good view of Jupiter and four of its many moons.  Through the telescope, the "moons" around Jupiter looked like a star does in the night sky with the naked eye.  The bands across the planet were a distinctive deep rusty red colour.  Again, since the planets are constantly moving, Glen had to re-orientate the telescope every few minutes to adjust for this shift.  Later, he brought the telescopic image even closer to give a more detailed view of Jupiter by itself.

Jupiter and some of its moons.
Later, at home, I looked up some facts about Jupiter.  According to the site Jupiter takes about 12 years to orbit the sun and rotates in about 10 hours. This short Jupiter "day" is amazing since the planet is roughly 11 Earth diameters wide.

The list of "facts" also tells us that "unlike the rocky planets, Jupiter is a ball of dense hydrogen, helium, water, nitrogen and other gases over a tiny rocky core. Powerful winds dominate the atmosphere with criss-crossing jet streams, lightning and huge hurricane-like storms like the Great Red Spot. This storm has been raging for over 300 years and is about 2 Earth diameters wide. The Great Red Spot can be seen on Jupiter along with four moons:  Io (smallest), Europa, Callisto and Ganymede in this NASA image. (Posted Directly Above)  If you have binoculars or a telescope you can see the moons as tiny points of light. If you look the next night you can see for youself that they move."

"Jupiter had 39 known moons at the time of this image and a slight ring of smoke-sized particles and dust. The planet contains 71% of the planetary matter in the solar system and so its huge gravity pulls every object toward it. In fact, most of its moons were captured rather than forming with Jupiter. Scientists watched in awe as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up and smashed into Jupiter making explosions the size of the Earth.  Scientists keep finding more moons orbiting Jupiter. In May of 2002 Scott S. Sheppard and David C. Jewitt of the University of Hawaii announced the discovery of 11 new moons around the planet. As of March, 2003, Jupiter had 52 confirmed satellites. These newest moons are all no more than 2 to 4 kilometers across (if their surfaces are very dark), they all have retrograde (backward) orbits, and take somewhere between 557 and 773 days to orbit. These latest moonlets were announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on Circular number 8089. In April, 2003, 8 more moons were confirmed for a total of 60 moons with the possibility of more as the search continues."
Therese offered an easy way to learn the names of the planets in order.  Just remember the sentence, "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas."  (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto).   However, if you discount Pluto as an actual planet, they you can say, "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Noodles!"  (I was surprised to find the second statement in Alisdair`s Can-Do Print workbook -- on a page titled   "Starry Skies" -- in the last section of the book.)  The same source tells us the root word ASTRO means star and the word NAUT means sailor.  It then suggests that Astronauts are STAR SAILORS!  The workbook also says students can think of the letters S. U. N. to remember the three planets that are the farthest from the sun (Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.)

Alisdair at the telescope.

After some of the crowd had dispersed, Isobel went to Mr. McDonald and asked if she could look at the stars.  So he trained the scope on Capella.  It is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus and Vega.  Isobel also asked if she could see Mars, but was disappointed to learn that it would not be in the proper position for viewing until the wee hours of the morning.  Isobel was also very excited about the glow in the dark plastic "moon rocks" that Therese handed out at the conclusion of the evening!

Gazing at Capella
The astronomy workshop provided an interesting learning opportunity.  It also brought to mind the words of the beloved hymn How Great Thou Art:

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
                         - Stuart K. Hine

Indeed.... how great Thou art!

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