Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deep-sky Gazing at Keystone Science School

Look up at the sky.

Do you wonder the name of that bright celestial object?

How about the Zodiac constellations crossing the sky at 9 p.m.?

Keystone Science School's StarQuest program has been a go-to family adventure for Summit County visitors in summer and winter — and the organization is looking to build its winter participation this year.

“As the new specialty programs coordinator, I'll be largely in charge of our StarQuest program ... our weekly astronomy program open to the community, held on Monday nights throughout the winter (pending weather, of course),” Keystone Science School specialty programs coordinator Audrey Dignan said.

She's becoming versed with the delicate, $50,000 reflecting telescope donation. It can be finicky: It's very particular about being “put to bed” in the right alignment, and having the operator know-how to tell it to enhance the view of various celestial objects.

The biggest challenge, Dignan said, is learning what's in the sky in winter. She's more familiar with guiding star-gazing in the summer, which has a completely different night sky.

Nonetheless, Dignan is excited to put her knowledge to the test come early January, when the winter StarQuest program is scheduled to kick off. It runs every Monday evening starting at 8:30 p.m. and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12.

She plans to use the two hours to show off the sky's most unusual objects, and to talk about the science and stories behind the stars and objects passing through the sky all the time.

Like Jupiter. Or the Andromeda Galaxy. Or the Orion Nebula. Explaining (and showing) the differences between red giants, white dwarfs, yellow stars, double stars and more should also be part of several of the lessons.

She's able to use star maps with the naked eye, binoculars and low-powered telescopes to keep participants engaged throughout the program.

“It's very romantic,” Dignan said, implying that it's good for couples on vacation or looking for something different to do. The Keystone Science School is looking to partner with Keystone Ranch's sleigh ride program to do a “drive-by” star program after dinner, which they plan to call “Cosmic Cowboys.”

The StarQuest program can also be catered to children, and it's her duty to make sure the program meets the needs and desires of her participants.

“Families are very excited to be able to look at deep space objects,” said Seth Oglesby, who used to run the StarQuest program, but now serves as Keystone Science School's camps and outreach assistant director.

He said participants are often surprised that they can see the cracks and crevices of the moon, or view Jupiter as closely and clearly as it appears in the telescope.

“They're amazed and they leave happy and appreciative of what we've shown them,” Oglesby said.

“How could you not be excited when you're looking at a galaxy in a high-powered telescope?” Dignan added.

Courtesy Summit Daily News