Though it was sunny outside, students taking Science and the Environment and Earth & Space Science were able to spy constellations, such as Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Orion and Pegasus, as well as several brilliant stars, like Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and Antares, last week courtesy of the Starlab portable planetarium owned by Chabot Space & Science Center.
Chabot has rented out its Starlab for the past 15 years, primarily to schools such as O’Dowd, and as part of the center’s “Chabot_To_Go” traveling science fair.
Chabot officials say that Starlab, which consists of a silver inflatable fabric dome, a projector, a fan, and a vast array of projection cylinders, has drawn rave reviews from teachers and students alike for its ability to simulate the night sky as it appears from virtually any vantage point on the planet.
“I think it’s great to allow our students to view a night sky in a way that was only possible before the light pollution of our Bay Area cityscape,” science teacher Jeff Beeby said.
Students were amazed by the scope of what they saw.
“It was mesmerizing,” John Carr ’18 said.
Beeby says he utilizes Starlab to teach elements of the astronomical coordinate system, such as altitude and azimuth, and reviews ways to use the stars to navigate.
“We also talk about the ‘astronomical’ size of space – the universe is estimated to be about 13.7 billion light years across – and how far the furthest man-made object, Voyager 1, is from earth – about 17 ‘light hours’ or almost 12 billion miles,” he said.
Beeby provides historical context to stargazing as well, playing “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a song that provided direction to escaping slaves.
The song instructs slaves to follow the drinking gourd, the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) – a constellation in the northern night sky. By traveling towards Ursa Major, slaves were heading in a northerly direction, to freedom.
Beeby also plays songs from Voyager 1. The spacecraft contains 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.
The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth people in 55 languages.
While students appreciated the opportunity to see a vivid night sky, they also enjoyed the opportunity for quiet reflection.
“It was so peaceful. It was nice,” Robin Parks ’19 said.