Astronomy Club offers learning outside the classroom

 

Last updated 2/21/2023 at Noon

A Sisters student had an exceptional opportunity to join the Lucy Mission, learning about the Trojan asteroid Polymele. PHOTO PROVIDED

Contributing to community knowledge and learning outside the classroom is a priority in Sisters School District. The Sisters High School Astronomy Club plays a big part in this culture.

Emily Moss, a senior at Sisters High School (SHS), recently visited the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to help collect data for NASA’s Lucy Mission, joining a team to learn more about the Trojan asteroid Polymele, and its moon Shaun.

The trip lasted six days and provided her with a completely new, hands-on learning environment.

The name “Lucy” was the title given to a NASA space probe launched in October of 2021 for a research and discovery mission to the Trojan asteroids that orbit both sides of Jupiter.

“The goal is to eventually get Lucy to a group of asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, and throughout the next couple years it’ll use gravity as a boost to fly by a bunch of these asteroids,” said Moss.

The Sisters High School Astronomy Club also contributes data to RECON (Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network), which focuses on studying unfamiliar objects in the solar system through a citizen-scientist network.

Through their involvement with RECON, the SHS Astronomy Club was able to participate in a similar NASA Lucy Mission event in 2021, in which six of the Astronomy Club students visited Las Vegas. They joined a campaign focused on collecting data about another Trojan asteroid, named Eurybates, which is also a Lucy target.

This time around, only one SHS student was able to attend the event.

“There were nine students who initially planned to go,” said SHS science teacher and Astronomy Club advisor Rima Givot. “Unfortunately this campaign required participants to be there for a full week, and it was too long for most students to be away.”

The gathering hosted more than 80 people from all over the world to participate in collecting data about Polymele.

“Some people came from Mexico, the UK even, just everywhere,” said Moss.

One of these participants was 2022 graduate and former SHS Astronomy Club President Paola Mendoza. Mendoza is currently studying music education at The University of Colorado at Boulder, and has been an active participant in both RECON and the Lucy Mission.

With such a large group of astronomers, with vastly differing ages and experience levels, Moss was able to familiarize herself better with the material.

“There were attendees there from anywhere to college age, to older people.… there was a big range of generations. I think I might’ve been the youngest one there,” said Moss. “I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, especially technical things.”

Moss has been a part of the Astronomy Club for a little less than a year, but she still had enough knowledge to understand the ins and outs of what was going on.

“We were looking through the cameras on the telescopes and computers while practicing setup and observation,” she said.

In fact, most of this event revolved around how much the participants could see using telescopes, cameras, and computers. They collected data with an occultation technique, which uses the shadow of an asteroid passing in front of a star to determine the asteroid’s size, shape, velocity, and reflectivity.

This meant that the team had to find the location with the clearest skies that would still be dark at the time of occultation. With these constraints, the team ended up in Kansas.

Despite some technical difficulties, nearly all the teams managed to extract valuable data to contribute to research. Moss and her mother, who accompanied her on the trip, were exposed to the beautiful world of astronomy while doing so.

“It was such a great experience, and it was fun spending time with my mom and getting to know all of these super interesting people who’ve been doing things like this for so long,” Moss said.

Givot was pleased that her student was able to have that experience.

“I’m so glad she went…and the fact that no other adult could go gave Emily the chance to share that time with her mom, which is incredibly special,” she said.

With 11 years left of planned research on the Lucy Mission, there may be many more opportunities for the future astronomers of Sisters to attend.

Givot said, “I hope students feel a connection to the universe, and know that they’re contributing to learning about the history of the solar system, which helps us all better understand how we fit into this bigger picture of the universe.”

To learn more about NASA’s Lucy Project, visit lucy.swri.edu. To learn more about RECON, visit http://tnorecon.net.

 

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