We’ll place ourselves in space by learning both the northern and southern skies. In the classroom we’ll work through some of the necessary background, and then dig into the science of some of the crazy stuff you hear about—extra-solar planets, black holes, exploding stars, and the expanding universe. On the trip, we plan to visit some historical observatories to see firsthand how we have built our understandings.
Students will maintain a journal of day and night observations taken when the sky is sufficiently clear throughout the semester. The intent of the field lab is to acquaint students with the day and night sky, to help them learn to recognize some stars and constellations, and to help them apply classroom knowledge to know where to look for the moon and planets and predict their motion relative to the stars. Daylight observations will include building and using a simple instrument to measure the angle of the sun above the horizon to determine the angle and time for local noon. On the autumnal equinox (September 22) this angle will enable students to calculate the ship’s latitude directly. Shortly after crossing the equator on October, 19 or 20 the sun will be directly overhead at noon, a sight often assumed, but never seen in North America. Students will also measure the length of the day at least four times during the semester—early, near the solstice, mid-November, and early December to explore how the length of the day varies with latitude and the calendar. (On November 3 there is a solar eclipse visible from the Atlantic, but I think we will be too far south to see it.) Night observations will take place on Deck 8. Students will plan and log at least six hours of observing spread over the duration of the semester. Planning will include using star charts and other tools to choose constellations, bright stars, the moon, and planets visible during the observing session. During the observation sessions, we will find and identify constellations and objects, and record their positions in the sky. Binoculars will be used to observe and identify lunar features. We will also relate the observations where appropriate to classroom activities. Weather permitting; there are some unique opportunities on this trip. On October 6-8 Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and the crescent moon will be visible in the same area of the sky shortly after sunset. We will record observations of the penumbral lunar eclipse on October 18 for the hour spanning 23:49 GMT and attempt to observe some Leonid meteors on November 17—though it will be a full moon. At the end of each set of observations, students will reflect in their journals about what they have learned. Journals will be graded on fulfillment of the required number and hours of observing, the quality of planning and recording, and the completeness and quality of the solar observations and explanations.