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Star party inspires Channing Hall sixth-grade community

Nov 03, 2017 10:11AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Channing Hall sixth-graders and families look at the night sky through telescopes brought by volunteers from the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Channing Hall sixth-grader Anya Hatch was bundled up against the brisk night air waiting her turn for one of the 10 telescopes set up on her school’s playground.

“We’ve been studying space, but I’m here to see what planets and constellations really look like,” Anya said. “Saturn is like a cartoon. It doesn’t look real.”

It was Anya’s first time not only attending a star party, but also looking through a telescope.

“I could see the rings of Saturn and its moons,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Anya was looking through a telescope belong to a Salt Lake Astronomical Society (SLAS) member. 

The society brings personal telescopes to star parties, often at schools, national parks, and Girl and Boy Scout events, to share with others.

“I hope to help further the experience of science and the universe for these students,” said Jamie Bradley, who volunteered one of his three telescopes, which has a 10-inch mirror.

SLAS member John Johansen said his interest began as a boy when looking through his six-inch mirrored telescope. It increased when he purchased a more powerful telescope in 2013 when Mars’ orbit came the closest to Earth as it had in 1,000 years. 

He was at Channing Hall Oct. 9 with his telescope that has a 12-inch mirror.

“I enjoy astronomy and want to share it,” Johansen said. “I love reactions when they look at Saturn for the first time and say, ‘wow’ in awe.”

Many students ask Johansen what the magnification of his telescope is — 350x — and about the Cassini mission that explored the black line in Saturn’s rings of ice.

“There’s calm air in amongst the rings of rice. It’s peaceful where there’s no material,” he told students and family members. “Galileo discovered Saturn and its rings (in 1610), but he couldn’t figure out what he was seeing on the planet. He said they appear to be ears. It wasn’t until later the ears were discovered to be Saturn’s two moons.”

Having astronomers come to the school with their telescopes was the idea of parent Heather Fehrenbach, who contacted SLAS.

“I thought that with the students studying about space, I’d see if they would bring their high-power telescopes to school so we could see what was out that night,” she said. “I had no idea we were going to see the planets and the things that we saw. Now I’m hooked on astronomy.”

In addition to Saturn and its moons, students also could see double stars, Horsehead Nebula, Owl Nebula, Orion’s trapezium cluster, the International Space Station and more.

This was the first time Channing Hall has hosted a star party, science and math teacher Jenny McIntosh said.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea to excite the students so they could actually see some of what we cover instead of just visualizing it,” she said. “Maybe when they go camping, they’ll remember this experience when they look at the constellations or have already looked through a smaller telescope and have an interest.”

McIntosh said during this fall, sixth-graders will learn about the moon, its phases and surface. She said in Year I Science, they also will learn about the solar system.

Channing Hall’s first day of school was Aug. 21, the day of the total solar eclipse. Together, they went to a nearby park to observe.

“The students are learning that so many of our everyday aspects are effected by the sun and moon, like seasons. What we notice out our windows, actually fits into the relationship to our universe and we don’t think of that every day,” she said.

Scott Farnsworth brought his sixth-grade son, Brighton, to the star party along with his family. In August, they traveled to Idaho Falls to see the eclipse.

“That was an amazing experience,” he said. “I didn’t know what was out tonight, but it’s fun to learn and have the opportunity to see Saturn’s rings through the telescope.” 

His younger son, Ryder, said he also has been learning about space in his third-grade classroom.

“I wanted to see the stars and planets,” Ryder said. “Through the telescope, I can see the colors, Saturn’s surface and the rings. It’s pretty cool.” 

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