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April 2011 St John Star Night

On Monday, April 11, members of the Bartlesville Astronomical Society hosted a Star Night event at St. John School.  Beginning at about sunset, Joyce Gray-Ritchie and Steve Plank presented a 30 minute astronomy introduction, in the gym, to the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.  Joyce gave an introduction to binoculars, explained how to tell time by the position of the Big Dipper, and demonstrated a Moon Phase dial.  Before the students left the gym, Steve discussed how to use a telescope, and each attendee got a chance to practice looking through a scope, in the light, before stepping out into the dark of the playground for the real sky viewing.

We were fortunate to have a number of club members volunteer to help with the outdoor observing.  There were enough telescopes and binoculars to give each student plenty of eyepiece time.  Daryl Doughty brought an impressive 6" refractor on a Go To Equatorial mount that captured a lot of attention.  Steve Plank and John Grismore brought Meade Go To SCT scopes, Ken Short brought a 3.5" Questar, Duane Perkins had his tripod mounted VLB (Very Large Binoculars), Arden Strycker brought several pairs of binoculars and a very handy counterbalance mount, and Joyce and Carroll Ritchie also brought binoculars.  To make things even more interesting, Mike Woods was there with his iPad and a planetarium program that adjusted its display according to the direction the device was pointed; sort of like a hand held window on the sky, with annotation, constellation outlines and much more.  A great thing to have at any star party, but especially for an educational event such as this. Chase and Madison Barnnett were also there to help out, talking with students and helping things flow smoothly.

Relatively cool, dry air gave us clear skies and a gentle breeze.  Since St. John School had arranged for PSO to turn off one of the flood lights directed toward the playground, we had somewhat darker conditions than expected.  Orion was obvious in the southwest, the first quarter moon was nearly 70° high in the south and Saturn shined low in the southwest.  There were enough scopes and binoculars that students could easily move from one to another, seeing the various celestial objects and comparing views.  They were eager and enthusiastic, returning to the scopes several times for "just one more look".  One or two even lingered for quite a while, hoping to memorize what they saw, and then draw their observations.  Several also took the quicker, high tech approach by attempting to snap photos at he eyepiece with their cellphones.

The hard work and careful planning by Joyce Gray-Ritchie resulted in a great school star party that clearly captured the interest and imagination of a lot of kids.  We look forward to similar future events during the next school year.