Opening Eyes to the Sky
year-old Trae Wakefield checked out the sky at a recent CLASS Star Party in
Dallas. Photos by Michael Ainsworth, Dallas Morning News, August 11, 2003.
"Opening childrenís eyes to the wonders of the night
sky is one of the objects of our star parties," said John Wagoner, an amateur
astronomer and organizer of the City Lights Astronomical Society for Students in
Dallas. Working through the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas, the local
astronomy club in Dallas, and the Astronomical League, Wagoner is instrumental
in holding monthly star parties for inner city kids in Dallasí Jubilee Park, a
neighborhood in Old East Dallas.
"I wanted to take astronomy into the city and tell
young people that they have options for a career in science," John Wagoner went
on. "This is an area whose time has come. As amateur astronomers, we really have
not served the underserved parts of our community."
Mr. Wagoner works through a national organization, the
Astronomical League, to help local astronomical societies set up City Lights
chapters. The City Lights Astronomical Society for Students, or CLASS, has
registered itself as a member society of the Astronomical League. CLASS founder
John Wagoner is also a founding member of the American Association of Amateur
Astronomers, and served as its first president.
"At the CLASS Star Parties, we try to at least show
them the moon and the planets and then some very beautiful double stars. They
are pretty easy to see from a light-polluted area," said Mr. Wagoner.
Three services are offered through the CLASS program.
They include a PowerPoint presentation that Mr. Wagoner said "starts at the
center of the universe and takes the kids on a tour."
Then thereís a daytime observing session during which
kids can see sunspots, the giant storms that rage on the sunís surface. Finally,
there are the nighttime telescope observing sessions.
"Kids love looking through a telescope," said Mr.
Wagoner. "To them, everything that they see is something thatís on TV; they
never realize they could see it live, so to speak."
The CLASS Star Parties in Dallas are held at Jubilee
Park on the second Friday of each month in the park at Bank Street and Parry
CLASS Star Parties Focus on
Expanding Childrenís Views
AAAA member and CLASS organizer John Wagoner helped Bre-Ana Weaver as she
looked at stars during the August 2003 CLASS Star Party at Jubilee Park in
Dallas. John Wagoner organized the monthly CLASS star parties to bring astronomy
to children who otherwise wouldnít have the chance to look through a telescope.
What Kids See
Forget green cheese. According to children at a
CLASS Star Party last August, the moon is made of rock, ice, or gasoline.
"Itís big!" 5-year-old Christopher Jones hooted as he
peered at the moon through one of several telescopes aimed skyward like cannons.
"Itís got tattoos!"
Nine-year-old Tyreisha Jones of Dallas thought the moon
was going to be orange and yellow, "but it looked like a peach."
"It looks like you could go ice skating on it," said
Daryl Edwards, 13.
Children are not the only ones who jostle for a look at
the CLASS Star Parties. During the summer, when the scraping of snow-cone ice
pulls children away from the telescopes, the grown-ups move in for a look.
"My favorite is the Pleiades," said 31-year-old
Graciela Santana of Plano, TX. Also known as the Seven Sisters, this open
cluster actually contains hundreds of stars. "They are so beautiful. It was the
first thing I saw with binoculars," said Ms. Santana. "My gosh, it was like
Nothing Else Out There Like It
Mr. Wagoner said it is not imperative to have high-tech
equipment to view the heavens. There is plenty to see, he says, even with
binoculars. And many amateur astronomers even build their own telescopes.
"There is nothing like looking at the moon through a
telescope that you made," said Manuel Arredondo of Duncanville, TX. Arredondo
built his own 4 and 1/2 foot telescope over the course of a year. Its body came
from a cardboard tube that had held a concrete pillar, the handles once graced
kitchen cabinets, and the sight finder that he uses to home in on celestial
objects was once on a BB gun. Mr. Arredondo said that the most compelling thing
about stargazing is that it makes you appreciate Earth, "because there is
nothing else out there like it."
Upcoming CLASS Events
Visit the C.L.A.S.S. website,
for information on their upcoming events and activities.
This article first appeared in the
Morning News, August 11, 2003. The revised version printed here was
included in the Fall 2003 edition of
The American Astronomer,
the AAAA Newsletter.
out more about the
City Lights Astronomical Society for Students
CLASS Home Page
City Lights Astronomical Society for Students
Plano, TX 75023
Phone: (972) 509-0676
The purpose of the City Lights Astronomical Society for Students (CLASS) is
to take astronomy into urban areas and to show young people that they have
choices when it comes to interests, that students can be interested in science
either as a hobby or as a career, as well as follow traditional pursuits. Our
goal is to provide service to the underserved areas of our community. Membership
in CLASS is free, and is open to any student regardless of race, religion,
national origin, sex, or creed because we celebrate our diversity. Membership in
CLASS also includes a free membership in the Astronomical League, and all of its
programs and activities.
John Wagoner - President - CLASS