Last summer, the Fayetteville Free Library acquired a telescope: a Celestron NexStar 8 SE. We used the telescope once during the summer for a program called Daytime Astronomy which unfortunately happened on a rainy day so we weren’t able to view the sun through the solar filter. For the rest of the summer and into the fall, I eagerly anticipated that days when the sun would set early enough I could run a night-time astronomy program during library hours.
On January 20th, 2015 I finally began a 5-part Astronomy series for teens and families at the library. The purpose of this program was to introduce members of our community to the technology available in the library and to give them an introductory understanding of astronomy. I began each meeting by introducing a concept in astronomy. At the first meeting it was the names and orders of planets in our solar system followed by a description of how telescopes work. We were favored with a clear sky so we took the telescope outside to look at the stars despite the bitter cold. For every day that we had clear skies, we took the telescope outside for at least half an hour. That was usually enough time to set it up, focus on something, view it for 10 minutes, and then go back inside because our fingers were numb and our noses frozen (the average temperature was around 10 F). We got some very nice views of Jupiter and counted at least 5 of Jupiter’s moons.
Here are some of the activities we did:
- Learning how telescopes work using information from How Stuff Works
- Comparing the relative mass of the Earth and Moon (from Stardate.org)
- Identifying constellations (adapted from astrosociety.org)
- Modelling constellations in 3D (from astrosociety.org)
- Using Zooniverse to participate in citizen science
- Watching Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey usually while warming up after going outside
- Viewing the surface of the Moon in Google Earth
- Measuring impact craters and making inferences from the data (adapted from these projects by Las Cumbres Observatory and The Center for Space Education at UC Berkeley)
There were at least 9 and as many as 19 participants at each meeting. Everyone participated with enthusiasm and curiosity and worked together for the activities. They all asked questions that I answered as best as I was able, sometimes writing them down so I could research the answer and give it to them at the next meeting. All of the parents who came were just as interested in the activities as their children, participating alongside them instead of the usual passive observation that you get from parents in most family library programs.
Because of the interest in and success of this program, I will be running it again in late October when there is at least an hour and a half of night before the library closes.