PRESCOTT New features at the Prescott Library and strong student involvement help make this year's Spotlight on the Stars events unique.
April 15-21 is the fourth year of the weeklong series of events the Prescott Astronomy Club organizes with the help of the Prescott Library and Prescott Parks and Recreation Department.
All but one of the events return to the library, which sees more visitors for this International Astronomy Week event than any other event it hosts. The library couldn't host last year's events because it was undergoing a major remodel and expansion.
Activities begin Sunday and culminate with a "Starry Nights" party at Watson Lake on the northeast side of town, where the public can view the stars through telescopes and get free star charts.
The growth of the club to 80 members has allowed it to buy a new telescope to use at these public star parties.
Library events include presentations about the sun and Mars, a solar viewing party, a "Celebrate Astronomy Party" for children, and a workshop for teachers.
The Solar Party will be in the courtyard with its wonderful lawn that didn't change during the library remodel. However, it's now easier to access from the library's lower level.
"You can bring the whole family and everyone will find something to enjoy," said Sharon Seymour, lead librarian for adult services.
The Astronomy Club will give away all kinds of cool astronomy stuff throughout the week, including binocular kits, planispheres (star charts), books, and Spotlight on the Stars 2007 logo book bags, club member Meghan Taylor-Gebler said.
Free refreshments such as astronaut ice cream and Pangaea sun cookies will be available at some events, too.
The library already features an educational display about astronomy in its newly expanded exhibit space. It includes real meteorites, telescopes and models of planets.
Skyview School helps
Skyview elementary and middle school students are joining in with major events on Wednesday and Saturday.
These expeditionary learning schools are focusing on the "origins" theme this year, explained Janet Bicknese, Skyview's coordinator of integrated arts, culture and community.
The Astronomy Club is thrilled about the school's involvement, club President Bill McDonald said.
"We're constantly working on ways to get more kids involved," said McDonald, who enjoys fulfilling requests to give presentations at local schools so he can show students how astronomy makes science amazing and fun.
Skyview Middle School students created a "Living Science Museum" the public can tour from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, after 5th grade classes from throughout the county get their turn. Tours take about an hour.
The living museum will feature eight stations from the past, present and future. For example, visitors can join Isaac Newton in a hands-on demonstration that illustrates one of his Laws of Motion, meet today's astronomers searching for extraterrestrial life, and visit people of the future living in a biosphere on the planet Alpha Centuri.
After the living museum tours, the Skyview Middle School students will present their performance entitled "Copernicus' and Galileo's Starry Journey." Characters throughout history will testify during a trial against Galileo for daring to say the sun does not revolve around the Earth."The whole point is to make science seem like a living, breathing, real-life enterprise that was exciting in the past and exciting today, and involves real people," middle school teacher Charles Matheus said. "Because they're playing (a scientist) today, they'll imagine they can be one tomorrow."
The younger Skyview Elementary School students are helping provide the festivities for Saturday's Celebrate Astronomy Party for children.
The students have created experiments and interactive exhibits for children in first through fourth grades. Participants will make sundials, hunt for moon rocks and create bracelets to protect themselves from "star burns."
Other Celebrate Astronomy Party exhibits inside and outside the library will include a nine-foot-tall model rocket and presentations by Lowell Observatory, the U.S. Geological Survey, Meteor Crater and Northern Arizona University.
The presentations on the sun Sunday as well as Mars Tuesday and Thursday will take place in the library's new Founders Suite with its new projection system, sound system, blackout window shades and climate control. It seats 110 people so it won't be overcrowded this year.
The educational talks in the Founders Suite begin Sunday afternoon with "SOHO: Solar & Heliospheric Observatory." Club member Ray Fobes will offer a multi-media presentation that includes close-up shots of solar flares.
A Tuesday evening presentation by club member Leon Corcoran will focus on "Water on Mars the Latest Exciting Finds."
Exciting new Mars images clearly show liquid flowing down the side of a crater, McDonald said.
The Third-Thursdays Star Talk will focus on "HiRISE: The People's Camera." The speaker will be Richard Leis, operations specialist at the HiRISE operations center at the University of Arizona, where scientists invented the camera.
HiRISE stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment. This experiment allows the public to help choose Mars imaging sites, and the public gets to see them within a few weeks.
The equipment went into orbit around the start of 2007 and recently flew closer to Mars for even better shots, McDonald said.
"These are the most detailed images we've ever gotten back from Mars," Taylor-Gebler said.
For more information, visit the club's Web site at www.prescottastronomyclub.org.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE STARS
(All events take place at Prescott Library except Starry Nights
on April 21)
Sunday, April 15
1-2 p.m. SOHO: Solar & Heliospheric Observatory multi-media presentation about solar sunspots and other solar activity.
2-3 p.m. Outdoor solar party, including instruments to safely view the sun.
Tuesday, April 17
6:30-8 p.m. "Water on Mars: the Latest Exciting Finds" multi-media presentation.
Wednesday, April 18
3:30-5 p.m. Public tours of Skyview Middle School's Living Science Museum.
6:30-8 p.m. Skyview Middle School performance of "Copernicus' and Galileo's Starry Journey."
Thursday, April 19
6:30-8 p.m. Third Thursdays Star Talk on "HiRISE: The People's Camera" that is shooting close-up images of Mars from space, by HiRISE operations specialist from University of Arizona.
Saturday, April 21
10 a.m. to noon Celebrate Astronomy Party including Skyview Elementary School's interactive exhibits for children in grades 1-4. Many other exhibits and giveaways indoors and outdoors for visitors of all ages.
10 a.m. to noon Teachers workshop. All teachers are welcome to attend and learn ways to use free NASA materials to meet state standards. Presenter is NASA solar system educator.
6-9 p.m. Starry Nights at Watson Lake features telescopes for the public to view the sky, free star charts, "Ask the Astronomer" and telescope tune-ups.