On September 28th, 2017, students in the SCI-304 Astronomy class at the New Castle Campus were given the opportunity to take their studies out of the classroom and into the real world. SCI-304 is a lecture-based science course that many students can take for elective credits and to satisfy their science requirements.
The problem with astronomy is that a lot of it is simply out of reach, literally. There is only so much you can see in the light-saturated area off of route 13, where the New Castle Campus sits.
As the adjunct instructor for the course, I sought to change that. I wanted the students to get to see the stars and learn about astronomy from people in the field. Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory was the place to do this. Located in the Greenville, Delaware, the observatory houses a 0.6-meter telescope as well as a 4-inch refractor, two 10-inch Meade LX200s, and an 11-inch Celestron.
One of the Mount Cuba telescopes. Photo credit: Mount Cuba.
First, we started with a great, short talk about the recent solar eclipse. Students saw a video similar to this taken of the full eclipse during totality, the point at which the moon completely covers the sun.
Then, students from Wilmington University were fortunate enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility’s wonderful telescopes. They were able to look at the moon in crystal clear detail, thanks to a cloudless night.
The moon as seen through a telescope at Mount Cuba. Photo credit: Stephen Scheib.
With the naked eye, they also saw the International Space Station zoom past in the night sky (it looked like a plane in regards to brightness, only without flashing lights).
Students were also able to view double-star systems and a globular cluster, a group of stars that orbit the center of a galaxy). They were also treated to a planetarium show, where zoomed-in images of galaxies, nebulae, and stars danced across the ceiling. Stars both young and old were shown in amazing detail not visible from human eyes alone.
Taking the learning outside of the classroom is a valuable experience for all students. Whether the course is an elective or a core program requirement, we should always aim to connect the information to real life experiences. The Mount Cuba Observatory is a hidden gem in northern Delaware that met this need perfectly. The small facility also hosts public and family nights throughout the year. Go outside and see the stars!