Report from Astronomy: Never Stop Looking Up! 

Madison Wells

by Madison Wells

It seems as though the past three weeks have flown by at the speed of light! We began VAMPY with an exciting day of telescope building, The students worked diligently and were able to finish their telescopes in time for our first observing trip of camp. Before heading out, the students built another tool they used to help them navigate the night sky: a planisphere. A planisphere is an analog computing instrument that is formed by a circular star chart attached at its center to a circular overlay that has an elliptical window so that only a portion of the sky map will be visible at any given time. The star chart contains the brightest stars, constellations, and the ecliptic visible from a particular latitude on Earth. After checking in with their counselors, the students were able to return to astronomy class for late-night observing off campus. Though the humidity was high and the skies were a bit hazy, they were able to see Jupiter and the Galilean moons through their very own PVC telescopes!

Week two brought even more excitement as the students met visiting astronomer Bob Summerfield. Bob introduced the students to extraterrestrials. What is an “extraterrestrial?” To define this term, we first must define the word “terrestrial.” “Terrestrial” is anything pertaining to, consisting of, or representing the Earth as distinct from other planets. You are a terrestrial; the students are terrestrials; Schneider Hall is terrestrial. The “space rocks” the students were able to observe and touch during class were extraterrestrials; they were not “little green men” or any other fictionalized aliens — they were meteorites and tektites — visitors from space! Next, Bob hosted a lunchtime Star Party to view a very special star: our sun.  The students observed the surface of the sun through special filters allowing them to safely view part of the light released from the sun. The real fun began after the sun went down as the students led the VAMPY Star Party. Each student ran a massive reflecting telescope and focused on planets, double stars, and deep sky objects.

Our final week of camp brought the students even more hands-on experiences. The students met with an astrophysicist from Western Kentucky University, learned how spectra are used to study the lives of stars, and built spectroscopes. Before blasting off to the U.S Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, on Tuesday, we combined our class with the Problems You Have Never Solved Before class to compete in an air-powered rocket building challenge. Our trip to Huntsville began with an early wake up call at 5 a.m.. When we arrived, we learned about the Saturn V rocket through hands on simulations, explored various exhibits, and watched a film celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Our final days of camp were filled with research on historical satellites, rockets, and telescopes; model spacecraft building; and deep discussions on relativity, black holes, and supernovae. Above all else, we hope these three weeks have inspired our students to never stop looking up and exploring the universe around us.