Students at Cuba Middle School had an opportunity to learn about stars, planets, galaxies, comets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies. Astronomers study our Universe and the objects within it. On Friday, September 11th 2015, astronomer Dan Klinglesmith gave a presentation about comets at a school-wide assembly. Dr. Dan explained that comets are made from ice and dust, similar to a dirty snowball. Comets are known for having tails of both ion and dust. After Dr. Dan showed pictures of famous comets, students helped him crush dry ice in order to make a model of a comet in the middle school gym.
Dr. Dan studied physics in college at St. Louis University and then went to graduate school at Indiana University where he received a PhD in astrophysics. After finishing school, he worked as a researcher for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for 30 years and now teaches astronomy at New Mexico Tech. But Dr. Dan wouldn’t call his job at NASA or at New Mexico Tech “work”. He explained to the students that since discovering new things about astronomy is what he loves to do that his work has always been more like play.
In the evening of the assembly, Dr. Dan and Cuba Middle School Science teacher Ms. Wimberley hosted a Stargazing Night. 20 middle school students attended as well as a few of the students’ parents and siblings. Sharing two telescopes, students saw the rings on Saturn, the Andromeda galaxy, and many different types of stars.
Students were also captured against the night sky with long exposure photography, a technique where the shutter is left open for an extended time allowing the imaging sensor to capture the faint star light and a small light source is used to illuminate the students in the foreground.
This program was part of “The Science Around Us”, an outreach effort of the University of New Mexico’s Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) to encourage students to pursue interests and careers in the sciences. The events were made possible through collaboration with Cuba Middle School Science Teacher Ms. Lana Wimberley and Cuba Middle School Principal Ms. Lynn Vasquez.