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A night for the girls!


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October 7th, 2011

I was comfortable watching a movie with Steven when the doorbell rang. After a few seconds, I could hear a series of knocks. I made my way to the door and three of my science students were standing there.

"Did you see the moon and the stars tonight Isabelle? We want to see it! Is your telescope out?" :)

The fact that it wasn't and that I preferred returning to the comforts of the couch to see the rest of the movie is proof that my husband had finally found something on video that was worth my while. We were watching "Thor" in 3D and I was completely mesmerized by the science fiction special effects. I told my students to come a little later and right on time, when the movie had finished,.. they were there!

The students that make their way to my house on starry nights are usually boys. Unfortunately, in my class and in society in general, astronomy enthusiasts seem pretty much dominated by the Y chromosome. I say this because most people who enjoy discussing the wonders of the night sky with me and most of my contacts on my stargazing forum are all male. Seeing the inquisitiveness on these young girls' faces was a breath of fresh air to me.

They asked if they could see Vesta (Yeah, I had told them that I had found it earlier this week and my whole class had clapped) but the moon had whitewashed that whole section of the sky. Besides, even if it hadn't, by the time my movie was finished, it would have been too low in the horizon to see much in any case.

Like all the students that come to my house for the first time to look through the telescope, I quickly went over how it worked and then pointed out some constellations. I then showed them something small even if they kept insisting to see the moon. I explained that it was always wise to start with faint objects and make one's way to the brighter ones since, this way, a person retains their night vision longer.

M31 didn't impress them much. Their eyes became wider when I told them what it was and showed them a picture but I knew that this was clearly not what they wanted to see.

"What about Jupiter?" I said.

This they became quite excited about. I told these wide eyed girls that I would show it to them only IF they could find it in the night sky. They responded to this with an air of gloom.

"Come on,.. I know you can find it. Look up and point to me the brightest object in the sky besides the moon!"

This they did and were quite happy with themselves in having found it "all by themselves". One after the other they crowded around the telescope trying to see Jupiter and its four moons. One of my students had her iPod with her and wanted to take a picture of it. I helped her, knowing full well the excitement of 'bringing a piece of space home".

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The moon's light was constant and so was the desire of my young observers to see it. Of course, as the teacher that wants everything to be exciting, I aimed the telescope at the moon and when it came into view put my hands in front of the eyepiece. Like a laser beam, the moon's light struck my fingers. I then opened my hands as if to cradle it. "See", I said, ",.. it IS possible to touch the moon!" With that sentence, I unleashed a power I never knew existed. These three girls all huddled desperately around the eyepiece hoping to capture the light of the moon. I then offered for them to see it:

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I proceeded to augment the magnification further with my Barlow lens and again the iPod came out for them to take pictures. I'm afraid that none of those will come out since I have had little success myself with my camera at this setting. They then asked what else they could see. Unfortunately with the light of the moon, there was little else I could show them. They offered to come by later since I had mentioned during class that Mars, Jupiter and Saturn could be seen in the early mornings. It was perfectly clear that I had succeeded in lighting a fire of curiosity but I couldn't do it. Staying up all night or waking up extremely early on a Saturday morning after a full week of teaching simply didn't "sit well by me".

They were disappointed but they perked up once more when I said that soon Venus would be out in the evening sky and that I would be waiting for them!

Don't worry girls,.. we'll do this again real soon!

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Isabelle

Edited by stolenfeather
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It's very good of you to offer your leisure time to your students, especially when you were comfortably warm and cosy watching TV :).

I'm sure they were appreciative of your comfort sacrifice, in order to accomodate their interest in the sky.

I'm sure they will be gobsmacked by the sight of Globular and Open Clusters, Coloured Double Stars too, and all the other intriguing sights the night sky offers up.

You may well find them knocking on your door on a very regular basis :happy1:.

Well Done though, it's the way Amateur Astronomy grows :).

Ron.

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Thanks for coming by Ron. I'm not usually a TV person but my husband tries to lure me in many times. For once he had succeeded! I love it when my students come to my door and since I teach in a small community in the middle of nowhere, everyone knows where I live. My students know that when the stars are out, that they are more than welcomed to come over.

It's amazing to watch their amazement when they come. It's like I'm rediscovering the night sky with them! I have some regulars that come but like I said above, they are usually of the male variety. We need more girls passionate about the night sky!

I hope they do come back and on a regular basis but am afraid they will lose their enthusiasm when the cold starts to hit. I'm afraid that I'll be the only one out there when we hit our -30's and -40's! It'ss be me and the frostbite! :)

Isabelle

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Ouch!, those temperatures look seriously low, and quite a deterrent for sure. The young ladies will be reluctant to brave that extreme cold.

Perhaps referring them to "Talitha", Carol, who is a member of SGL, might encourage them. Although Carol's visits to the forum are not as frequent as they once were.

She has other committments, one of which is writing articles on sketching astronimical objects for The 'Sky at Night Magazine', which she is extremely skilled at.

Carol lives in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, and often mentioned the very cold nights she endured in pursuit of recording some of her sketching targets. Not only the cold, but the howling Wolves too :).

Anyway, I wish you and the girls well in your astronomy, and perhaps you will keep us informed of the progress you make.

Best Wishes.

Ron.

Edited by barkis
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Thank Ron and I will surely keep posting the progress that we make. I have seen "Talitha" Carol's posts before. It does get cold and like Carol, the wildlife here can be very exciting. However, looking at the stars to the howling of wolves has never happened. I wish it had!

Isabelle

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You are one of the unsung heroes of the amateur astronomy world,spreading the word to children and getting them interested must be a tough task.The satisfaction you must get though makes it all worthwhile.You really are a fantastic person!:)

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Kevin, Saturn4me and Liz,...

Being out there "spreading the word" about the many wonders of our natural world gives me an energy that can't be explained. People say that I give but the look in their eyes, their excitement when they first see something, when they understand,..

Is a feeling I can't live without. It's a drug. A fantastic drug!

Isabelle

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What a wonderful gift you give your students, Isabelle. Regarding gender, I would request you take a look at this thread I posted regarding the Grand Canyon Star Party this past June, and the awakening of two of my granddaughters to astronomy and public outreach. Happily, I lost the use of my 10" and 18" telescopes for most of the week to Jessica and Karina, who did yeoman service to over 1200 visitors each, themselves, for the week alongside 105 other astronomers.

If you wish to encourage any of your young ladies to come to the sky, please feel free to use the following thread. Jessica, named Queen of Albireo by the other astronomers, and Karina, conqueror of Planetary Nebulae, would be most proud.

http://stargazerslounge.com/observing-reports/147271-grand-canyon-star-party.html

Thank you for what you bring, and share.

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Thank you Skylook. At this point, my students are taking in all that they can from me. I am hoping that they will broaden their horizons and look elsewhere when they feel more secure. One step at a time,.. we WILL bring the sky to them!

Isabelle

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I do from four to ten night outreaches at various schools in a 50 mile radius each month. Generally not a repeat session, more like a science drive-by, provided by anywhere from two to ten of us amateurs. And I must say, that one on one with students has given me tremendous confidence in their futures, if only their surroundings allow them to grow. Isabelle's repeated exposure of her students to the night sky is certainly an aid in their growth, while my and other clubs' snapshot teaser sessions for a wide audience also served to whet their interest. So much to do, with so much return. They just need an alternative to the other distractions life offers.

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Hi Isabelle,

Well done, the look on your student's face in the first image wheile her friend takes her turn at the EP is priceless. You have obviously caught their imagination.

Are you the only active sky watcher in your community? If so then what you do is doubly important because without your effort these young people wouldn't have the opportunity to see these wonders.

All the best.

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Alan, yes I am the only stargazer in this remote community and seeing the excitement in my student's eyes means so much to me!

I find that teenagers have a natural curiosity to what is out there. Even my most misbehaving student wants to learn more! Thank you everyone and keep up the great work Skylook! :)

Isabelle

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Isabelle, are there any other telescopes or binoculars available? If your students are up to it, perhaps a push toward a night under the stars next spring for the public, at the school or another public location? Might start a local fire.

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That may be a great idea! I'll see what I can do. May is tricky since the native people all leave to go hunting and June is filled with summer exams and such,.. April in the north would be way to cold. We shall see what I can muster. Thank you for the great idea Skylook!

There is a regional and provincial science fair every year. I was thinking,.. What if my regulars presented something? That would surely grab some attention no?

Isabelle

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The trouble with scheduling something like this is that the real world intrudes. Weather, local traditions, lots of wrinkles. Your closing paragraph is intriguing. About 20 percent of the school events we support are part of a greater science night program at the school, with activities for parents and students indoors along with time with us under the night sky to top it off. That takes the pressure off any one feature of the night. The intriguing part is to have the students participate in the night sky event. Nothing big; after all, my grandaughters fixed their attention for the week of the Grand Canyon Star Party on being knowledgeable about one or two things each; Jessica did double stars and Saturn (the only planet less dense than water; if you found a big enough bath tub, it would float. But it would leave a ring. Now she thinks she is a stand up comedienne), while Karina did globular clusters and planetary nebulae (average sized stars don't explode, they sneeze their outer layers off and it spreads around the universe. Grab a piece of air, and you are holding a piece of a former star). The cool thing about it was the information they learned was new and fresh to them, and they explained things in their own terms, not curling peoples' hair with extreme scientific jargon. So, as a demonstration of the night sky along with other science topics, what a showcase for the students! Just showing a planet in a telescope blows visitors away. A few hip pocket facts and the show sells itself. Or the moon! And a color double star. Wow. Once in a lifetime night for the visitors, and a hands on demonstration that binoculars and a telescope or two bring alive. The student astrophiles grow in the telling, and the visitors are proud of their school. Win-win. And maybe a porch or garden light will get turned off the next night.

I sincerely hope you can have some fun with the idea. But still, getting out with the students is the key. They obviously respect and even need what you are offering, and brings a smile just thinking of the awakenings.

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Skyhook, I teach in as small isolated community of about 500 people. The students know where I live and I have a saying at school, "If you see stars, chances are that I am outside. Just walk by and give me a shout and I'll show you what's out there".

The students come,.. sometimes one, sometimes five but they come. At this point I believe that I will leave things open ended. If something else develops,.. may it be.

However, I will surely up the idea of creating a little something for the science fair. It's a journey right?

Isabelle

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Hi Isabelle. It's great to see some more girls responding to your enthusiasm for astronomy. To give kids a chance to share your interest, passion and knowledge is to give them something they can take forward life-long... and whenever they look skyward and contemplate the amazing wonders of the universe, it is you they will be silently thanking :)

Jenna

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Thank you Jenna! What a sweet thought! I really hope that their curiosity for the stars does not dim. The future often looks hopeless for them simce we live in such an isolated community. I believe that maybe this way,.. they can look further.

Thank you as well rabbithutch and ScubaMike. I am alone in this community that stargazes and sometimes,... well one feels alone. To have these girls come share my telescope with me made it THAT much better!

Isabelle

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