Astronomy Day at Robinson Nature Center gets kids excited about space

Columbia Flier

The solar system circled on the park's trails outside the Robinson Nature Center on Saturday, with planets depicted on cards set along the paths. Inside, numerous activity stations and a variety of speakers gathered together to celebrate International Astronomy Day.

This is the first year the center has held an event in recognition of International Astronomy Day and Joel Goodman, who helped organize it, was thrilled with the response from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

"It is a good collaboration," Goodman said, of the speakers and educators attending. "Youth get to see, and get more involved."

Adults could also participate as families worked side by side in one activity to piece together a photo of Mercury, the planet that was sort of the star of the day. After taking more than 276,000 images of Mercury over the last six years, the Messenger spacecraft is scheduled to crash land on the planet on April 30 around 3:30 p.m., explained Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at JHU APL.

Chabot talked about all the new discoveries made about Mercury – like the fact that there is ice on the planet closet to the sun.

"Ice on Mercury! How cool is that?" said Noam Izenberg, also a planetary scientist at APL, who was overseeing the photo puzzle. "Jobs like this are a dream job. Those first full view images of Mercury; everybody is looking at something for the first time. Everyone in the room 'ooed' and 'aahed.' "

Also exciting to the scientists is the fact that Europe will be sending up a spacecraft to view Mercury in the near future.

"We'll get to see the crater it [Messenger] will make," Chabot said, with excitement.

Izenberg enjoyed hearing what excited both the children and adults participating in the event.

"It's great to talk and find out what people want to know," Izenberg said. "Everybody has their own curiosity."

What should aliens know about us? That was the question Melvin Smith, a volunteer with STEMulatingMinds, asked participants to answer by creating images on tiles at his table.

"Aliens need to know about ice cream, because they need to know what we eat," Smith said he learned from one participant. "Somebody else thought they should know about baseball."

The completed colored tiles could be taken home or left to be part of STEMulatingMinds' art gallery exhibit planned or June 7 at Howard Community College.

To explain how vast the solar system is, Robert Savoy, a volunteer at Robinson, was in charge of an activity that had participants stringing beads.

"Each black bead represents 30 million miles," Savoy said. "They learned about astronomy as well as distance. It took awhile to put the beads on."

"This is a planet and this is Earth," explained Capri Shipley, 6, as she held up her long string of various colored beads before pointing to a white bead near the end. "This is really cold because it is far, far from the sun and now, it is a necklace," she said as she slipped it over her head.

Rachel Smith, a senior at Mt. Hebron High School who is involved in the intern/mentor program working on original research on astronomy education, was kept busy at her table. To explain how scientists had to create a way to cushion the Mars Rover's landing, Smith's table had participants creating vessels to safely carry an egg thrown off the balcony of the center.

"I think we've lost about a dozen [eggs]," Smith said, as she ran up and down the stairs to retrieve the contraptions. "At one point I had 10 people trying to squeeze all in. They've really enjoyed it."

"I used cotton balls, a bag, tape and five balloons," said Daniel Clark, 12, of his successful contraption. "It's really fun. I love it."

Esmeralda Osborne, 11, also had a successful egg launch.

"I knew I was going to need a lot of cushion for an egg, it's so fragile," said Osborne, who used numerous balloons and lots of cotton balls. "There was no way it was going to break. It is completely crackless."

"We love the astronomy activities here at the Nature Center," said Esmeralda's mother, Adriana Osborne. "We come often for different activities. It's really got a lot for kids with many different kinds of interests — animals, environment, stars. A little something for everybody. It's awesome."

About 175 people attended the event.

"We hope there are more people every year," Goodman said.

"This is awesome," said Yaye Walker, who was with her 5-year-old twins, Taalib and Kesso. "It is great for kids. You can see their excitement."

And when their egg did not break upon landing, the Walker family cheered.

"Mission accomplished!"

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