The southern Iowa night sky was transported into Wilson School on Monday during a visit from the Science Center of Iowa.
The Science Center held a star party at Wildwood Park on Sunday night, allowing participants to use high powered telescopes to view the night sky. On Monday, they brought their inflatable Star Lab to the school so first graders could learn more about the stars they see in the sky from their own backyards. Students learned about stars, constellations, and Greek mythology. The free program was funded through a NASA grant and provided the lab to four southern Iowa schools.
Rhiley Binns, program presenter, ushered the students through a small tunnel into the star lab. It was dark inside but Binns reassured students as she set up her projector to show the star patterns on the ceiling of the domed lab. She told students that Venus and Mars are now visible in the Western sky. She also talked about prominent starts, including Sirius, Rigel and Betel Geuse.
She pointed out the Big Dipper and showed them how to find the Little Dipper, as well as the North star, Polaris. While not the brightest star in the sky (ranked 49th), students learned that Polaris is important because the Earth's axis aligns with it, so it appears to not move in the sky, as other stars do.
Next she showed students which stars make up the constellations. Finally she showed students the shapes of the constellations and the stories behind the Greek myths. "Have you heard of Hercules?" she asked. She also shared stories about Orion and his belt.
Students in Miss King's class asked some good questions at the end of their session. "Why are dwarf planets not planets," one boy asked in reference to Pluto.
"In science, things tend to change," explained Binns.
"Why do planets move around the sun?" asked another student. Binns explained about gravity.
Principal Jeff Hendred appreciates having these types of activities for his students. "It opens up opportunities for students to think about their future," he said. "Experiencing stars and having someone guide them through it instead of just reading about it . . . why would we not want that for our students."