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Mercury and M. P. King Elementary School
Mercury and M. P. King Elementary School

When my Boulder City, Nevada elementary school's gifted and talented education (GATE) teacher heard my kids talking about the family telescope, she asked me if I could show the science classes the transit of Mercury across the sun four years ago. I was glad to oblige with my old C-8 and a white-light solar filter. We set up on a beautiful sunny day, and every science class at the 3rd through 5th grade elementary school came out to see, about 200 students in all, plus many of the school's teachers and staff, and almost every kid out for recess or lunch.

The first highlight of the day for me came after GATE teacher (Mrs. Eby) mastered the manual slow motion controls needed to keep the sun centered from my imperfect daytime polar alignment: with her in charge I could run to the adjacent Kindergarten to 2nd grade school, where I took my daughter out for half an hour so she could see Mercury too, with all the older kids! My son's 5th grade class came by too.

Mercury was a little smaller than one of the sunspot groups visible that day, and the bull-eye pattern and fibrous edge of the biggest spot contrasted with Mercury's sharp round dot. The kids in each new class got an update of where the tiny disk of Mercury had been compared to the sunspots at the earlier class periods. The size of the sun and of that tiny dot compared to Earth got a good share of ooh's and ah's. As the day went on I tried to snap some pictures with a borrowed digital camera but forgot that it had a sticky lens cap, so most photos were washed out or cut off at edges, and none were worth posting. There was one picture I snapped quickly when I saw the biggest grin on a kid's face as he looked to a friend before moving away from the telescope. While the photo was poor, my memory of that excited grin hasn't faded.

That transit viewing was when outreach 'clicked' for me and became my 'specialty' in this great hobby: since then I've been to many national and state parks to volunteer at star parties and public nights in Nevada and neighboring states, provided evening viewing for the same elementary classes, and day and night events with other teachers as my kids progressed to middle school and high school. My kids like astronomy as a hobby too, and now each can work their own 'scope or Paragon-mounted binoculars at outreach; it's a kick to hear my daughter describe Saturn or watch my son find a Messier object.

The moment that made outreach my personal priority was that amazing grin and excitement flashed on a kid's face during the Mercury transit. I'm grateful for that sight, and for a great teacher, Mrs. Eby, asking if I could help out by showing the transit!

Details
Date Taken: 07/26/2011
Author: Jay P.
Category: Show & TELescope Contest (2011)

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