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Monday, October 03 2022 @ 08:14 pm EDT

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Education Outreach
AOAS is one of the first clubs in the U.S. to take part in an astronomy and space science educational outreach effort. The Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society (AOAS) has been accepted into this new program funded and promoted by NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab). The purpose of the program, known as The Night Sky Network, and the function of the club as well, is to make available to the public and area school programs, public observing nights to introduce the night sky to every one interested in astronomy.

AOAS has received our PlanetQuest Outreach ToolKit designed to help explain difficult concepts and to encourage thought. The ToolKit contains the materials needed to present lessons on four different aspects of astronomy:
  1. HOW DO WE FIND PLANETS AROUND OTHER STARS? Participants manipulate various demonstration materials to simulate star wobble (astrometry and radial velocity), transits (photometry), and direct imaging of planets.
  2. TELESCOPE TREASURE HUNT: HOW DO STARS AND PLANETS FORM? Tour the telescopes at a star party to view different objects that contribute to stellar and planetary formation, place stickers on a Telescope Treasure List.
  3. WHERE ARE THE DISTANT WORLDS? Use a star map to find and identify stars with known extrasolar planets.
  4. WHY DO WE PUT TELESCOPES IN SPACE? Participants investigate poor simulated seeing conditions through a mock telescope.

Additional multimedia resource materials allow us to include PowerPoint slides, video clips and animations to our presentations to "spice up" the excitement and enhance the understanding of difficult concepts.

Students of the programs will learn about careers in astronomy and other science-related fields. They will see first hand why a strong background in mathematics is essential to holding any of these prestigious career positions. One topic might be the quest for planets around other stars. Students will learn how we've been able to locate more than 100 distant planets around dozens of stars within 50 light-years of Earth. A constellation pack with highlighted stars where we've already found planets will give students a better feel for where these new worlds lie in the night sky. They will study the cutting-edge ideas being presented today for devising the instruments that might be the first to actually "see" the spectral signature of water or oxygen on some distant world orbiting some far distant star within the next few years.

There will, of course, be study materials for Mars and our current efforts at exploration of the dry surface of that cold, barren neighbor. The Mars Express Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will be actively investigating the Martian surface for many months to come, and the data gathered will keep hosts of scientists busy analyzing that data for many years to come. All this will add to the data we'll need to be prepared for an eventual manned mission to the Red Planet.

With President George W. Bush's suggestions that the U.S. should begin designing what we'll need to return to the moon with an eventual base along with a manned Mars mission, comes the need for a highly educated and technically capable work force. The efforts of AOAS and the Night Sky Network will touch the very workforce we'll need to accomplish this demanding job ourselves. The alternative of mission control rooms overpopulated by foreign-born technicians with American technicians in the minority should not be acceptable.

With great power comes great responsibility, is a truism of the first magnitude. Traveling to the Moon or Mars is within our capability, but only our best minds can make that possible. Better educating our U.S. students and the general public now is the responsibility at hand. Let us not fail them, lest we fail ourselves as leaders in space science and exploration.

The first use of the PlanetQuest Outreach ToolKit will be on March 26th OR 27th. The complete list of Public Observing Nights at Ft Smith Parks is:

  • MARCH 26 OR 27 (CAC) (I say OR because if Friday's are clouded out, we'll try Saturday)
  • APRIL 17 (CAC)
  • JUNE 19 (CAC)
  • SEPTEMBER 17 or 18 (CAC)
  • OCTOBER 16 (CAC).......................
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