Monday night out in rural Sampson, Midway Middle students took the chance to gaze at stars and planets, making for a stellar evening of viewing, learning and searching.
Each year there is a statewide star party at the NC Science Festival and students at the school heard about it and decided they wanted to look into it, and participate in some way.
“The festival gave the kids the idea we should have a STEM club star party,” said Jason Stehly, a teacher at the school.
“They came up with the idea last September and started planning,” he said. “We started contacting agencies.” He said that the students talked with the Raleigh Amateur Astronomer’s Club and the Chapel Hill Astronomy Club.
The students planned the May 5 date with the hopes of catching the end of a meteor shower, but Stehly predicted that it would be very unlikely as it was mainly going to happen the night and morning before.
“This would be the second or third time we passed through this comet’s tail,” said Stehly.
This star party was the first for the school, but Stehly said he had done these before, and it likely wouldn’t be the last for the school.
“We are going to do this annually at least, and maybe make it regular,” said Stehly in an interview last Wednesday. “We want to see what interest there is.”
“Midway has good dark sky conditions, even with the quarter moon,” Stehly explained. Folks came out with large telescopes and smalls ones, and binoculars as well, and took the chance to look at the sky despite the windy evening.
“Two of my students had seen telescopes, and it got them really interested,” Stehly detailed. He said that the group has had about 15 students on and off, and that they enjoy everything from biology and surveying birds to engineering and building Goldberg devices. Students also work in the greenhouse and school garden.
“I lead them a little, but as little as possible,” said Stehly. He encourages the students to take their own initiative, he said.
Students were able to use binoculars and telescopes brought by volunteers, as well as utilize Stehly’s classroom and look at star charts on the projector.
“The students had planetarium software in the classroom that was interactive,” he explained. Students were able to go out back of the school to the football field and view through the telescopes. They also had red lens flashlights to keep their night vision from being effected.
Stehly has used these star parties as a science outreach in Oregon before he came here, and they were able to see Jupiter.
“It was quite the experience,” he said. Students were able to see Jupiter through one of the volunteer’s telescopes.
Astronomy has been a hobby of his for quite a while, and he has gone to great lengths to see the stars, going as far as to sleep out in a sleeping bag in the desert to watch a meteor shower and waking up covered in frost.
Stehly has a degree in biochemistry and science education. The group will likely hold another star party but the date and time for the next event is undecided at this time.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122. Follow us on Twitter: @SampsonInd