Monday, May 29, 2023

VHS welcomes NASA scientists

By Dixie Terry

On Aug. 17, the Vienna High School hosted a Solar Eclipse Field Day for county students, in grades 5-12.

There was a definite air of excitement as the students gathered to learn more about the upcoming solar eclipse.

The grade school students of Cypress, New Simpson Hill, Buncombe and Vienna, were provided break-out sessions all morning, learning of the various aspects of the total eclipse.

Beginning at 12:15 p.m. the VHS students arrived in the new gym, to be greeted by Dr. Joe Nighswander, with an “We want you to have an awesome experience.” He introduced Dr. Stone Odenwald, of Baltimore, who is the director of the NASA STEM resource development team, who spoke in the general session.

A Harvard graduate, Odenwald has written numerous scientific articles and has appeared on the National Geographic channel.

He said he has been an astronomer for 40 years, but has never seen a total eclipse, although he does attend a partial eclipse annually. He went on to explain, in depth, why there isn’t an eclipse during each new moon.

He said the math is very complicated, but it can be figured out precisely, with the next eclipse to take place in April, 2024. “In fact, this one, coming up, was predicted back in the late 1800s.”

He stated that there is nothing random about the solar system. “It is a clockwork system.”

Odenwald said, “This solar event has a great importance to us, as scientists,” as he told of their sophisticated equipment, that can now shoot lasers to the moon in order to take measurements. “We will be able to detail and map the landscape of the moon during this upcoming eclipse.”

The first record of an eclipse was in 1200 B.C., in China, where the people had no explanation for the phenomenon.

A sheet of the moon’s eight phases: Full Moon, Waxing Gibbous, First Quarter, Waxing Crescent, New Moon, Waning Crescent, Last Quarter, Waning Gibbous and Full Moon, was distributed.

Each student was assigned to a phase of the moon as the assembly of students were divided into groups to go from station-to-station, where NASA members and teachers explained a number of different scientific specifics of the coming eclipse.

In one of the break-outs, the entire gym was used to represent the solar system, with students volunteering to represent the planets, and each directed to their particular location.

The students learned that Haley’s Comet, unlike an eclipse, will become visible in 2061, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Tiffany Racey, a sophomore of Tunnel Hill, said she already has her special glasses, and will watch the eclipse at home with her family.

Another student, also of Tunnel Hill, Miranda Mathis, a senior, who didn’t yet have her glasses, said she will watch the event at home, and is very excited about watching the eclipse.

The students were each provided with the special glasses, at their final station, necessary for viewing the eclipse in its coming and going stages. Eye safety was very much emphasized by each of the scientists.

Vienna High School had partnered with Rend Lake College, who also sent their astronomy instructors, and SIU, to provide this educational opportunity for the county’s students, said superintendent Josh Stafford.