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NKAF and VCF Team Up to Bring Family Astronomy Events to Libraries in the NEK

The Northeast Kingdom Astronomy Foundation (NKAF) was awarded a $2,500 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s (VCF) Northeast Kingdom Fund for a program called “Building Community through Astronomy: Intergenerational STEM Learning.”

Students use the Galileoscope that they assembled to look at nature up close. (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)
Students use the Galileoscope that they assembled to look at nature up close.
(Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

Kids, teens, and adults are coming together to learn about and view the skies either at Northern Skies Observatory (NSO) in Peacham or at libraries in the NEK to foster lifelong and intergenerational learning as well as to spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning for future college majors and career choices.

Student uses NKAF's Lunt solar telescope to safely view the Sun. (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)
A student uses NKAF’s Lunt solar telescope to safely view the Sun.
(Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

Daytime solar observation has been enjoyed when weather permits.  The goals of the project are to build an active astronomy community, offer intergenerational learning and build awareness of NKAF while partnering with VT libraries.

Student uses NKAF's Lunt solar telescope t safely view the Sun.(Photograph courtesy NKAF)
A student uses NKAF’s Lunt solar telescope to safely view the Sun. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)

NSO is located on a hill behind Peacham Elementary School in northern Vermont and features a 17 inch state-of-the-art digital main telescope, a collection of portable telescopes, a trained group of local science teacher/docents, a smaller group of trained operators, a local friends of NSO group, and a collection of astronomy resource materials and periodicals.  Training teachers at partner schools has been the key to NKAF’s early work.

NKAF’s 17 inch PlaneWave telescope, Astrometric Instruments custom mount and Ash Dome. (Photograph courtesy John Blackwell – www.regulusastro.com)
NKAF’s 17 inch PlaneWave telescope, Astrometric Instruments custom mount and Ash Dome
(Photograph courtesy John Blackwell – www.regulusastro.com)

The main telescope can be operated remotely by participating teachers in addition to interactive on-site operation.  This hands-on, inquiry-based learning is also offered in after school programs, providing a safe and enriching environment for young people while their parents are working.

Rosette Nebula imaged on 5.2.14 and processed by Barnet School students (Photograph courtesy Cindy Mosedale's class at the Barnet School)
Rosette Nebula imaged on 5.2.14 and processed by Barnet School students
(Photograph courtesy Cindy Mosedale’s class at the Barnet School)

Children and adults are drawn to the mystery of the nighttime sky.  Astronomy is used as the vehicle for hands-on STEM learning which also serves to entice parents and community members to become actively involved participants promoting student/family interaction, fostering interest in STEM in a family-friendly way, and focusing on rich scientific research and experience.

 Students learn about the phases of the moon with Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium educator Leila Nordmann at Goodrich Memorial Library. (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

Students learn about the phases of the moon with NKAF and Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium educator Leila Nordmann. (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

Why is STEM education important?

Science education is lacking in the US and has been for decades.  It can be particularly lacking in rural Vermont where many schools have limited scientific equipment for hands-on use or funds for field trips.  By studying a planet, galaxy or other deep space object, participants help plan, collect and analyze data, as well as draw conclusions.  In doing this they get involved in math, physics, and optics, and they become active learners through hands-on use of sophisticated scientific equipment.

Students on a solar system walk with Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium educator Leila Nordmann at Goodrich Memorial Library. (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)
Students on a solar system walk (Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

High tech jobs are growing in Vermont with companies like MyWebGrocer, Dealer.com, FairPoint Communications, C2(Competitive Computing), Chroma Technology, Vermont Microdrilling, and the new AnC Bio Vermont plant in Newport.  Yet we may not have enough young Vermonters skilled in STEM to fill those jobs.  The economic growth of our state depends in part on how we engage and educate our children starting when they are very young to create the necessary education to work pipeline.  NKAF is committed to using astronomy as a vehicle to help level the playing field for economically stressed areas like the Northeast Kingdom.

New astronomy club and events at Northern Skies Observatory in Peacham

The astronomy club meets around the new moon at NSO in Peacham.  Astronomy enthusiasts of all ages, from advanced amateurs to folks looking to learn the basics of observation, are welcome.  For more information, call (802) 592-3057 or email observers@nkaf.org.  In addition to the state-of-the-art 17 inch telescope capable of digitally imaging distant galaxies, a number of smaller telescopes and binoculars are available for visual observation.  Attendees are also encouraged to bring their own telescopes to set up on the lawn.

NKAF’s summer astronomy events:

Student using welding goggles with a higher grade filter safe for viewing the Sun at Goodrich Memorial Library.(Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)
A student uses welding goggles with a higher grade filter for safely viewing the Sun.
(Photograph courtesy Alice Nicholson Harter)

According to St. Johnsbury Academy physics teacher and NKAF President Bill Vinton: “These intergenerational learning opportunities will give kids, teenagers and adults a taste of what we do.  NKAF also offers summer camps, lectures and workshops as well as goes out to schools for astronomy presentations that address the new statewide science standards.  There are exciting possibilities for libraries and schools in our area as they learn about ways the observatory can interact with them in the community.  We hope to build on these library partnerships to offer future programming at new locations.”

NKAF was one of 20 organizations that received funds for this round of grants from VCF’s Northeast Kingdom Fund.  For more information, email NSO Director Damon Cawley at damon@nkaf.org and go to www.nkaf.org or www.facebook.com/nkaf.org.

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