December 27, 2005 > Star Date
by Pushpa Warrier
"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another"
Eric Nicholas, an Interpretative Student Aide with East Bay Regional Parks District, could be credited with pioneering astronomy programs at Ardenwood. He says that his reason for creating and executing programs on astronomy is to "spark an interest in everyone, particularly young minds about the world and the universe that we live in."
Nicholas works with a number of telescopes - one of his favorites is a custom made 18-inch computerized marvel that tracks stars and clusters without moving it by hand. He also uses a smaller Meade telescope, also computer-controlled, that children can use by themselves, maneuvering up and down, left or right to scan the sky. Youngsters are fascinated as they discover lesser known parts of the universe on their own. Another type of telescope used by park rangers has different stations for viewing particular celestial objects throughout the night. This makes it ideal for solar observations as well; the sun can be viewed safely through special filters. Solar flares are observed as they expand from the sun's surface - a spectacular phenomenon.
It has been an eventful year for the astronomy program at Ardenwood including seven new and exciting events. Eric is enthusiastic about planning future programs, at least one program per month. Some will allow solar viewing during the day, and others are designed to visit the stars and constellations at night.
"An Evening with the Stars" is the next program offered. The class begins with a "scale demonstration;" the sun is represented by a small watermelon, eight inches in diameter, the moon a grain of salt, the Earth a peppercorn, Mercury and Mars are poppy seeds, Venus a peppercorn, Jupiter a chestnut, while Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are peanuts. Pluto is symbolized by a grain of salt smaller than the moon. From our sun to Pluto, the distance - to scale - of the planets stretches over 1,000 yards. The next star on the scale would be 4,000 miles away... an indication of the size of our solar system. Light sticks are placed next to each solar system body, making them visible and, looking back from the outer planets, the sun is just a pinpoint in space leaving the crowd in awe.
On the night of Dec. 30, star fans will have another chance to attend this fun program which will highlight the Orion Nebula constellation, along with Mars and Saturn.
An Evening with the Stars
Fri, Dec. 30
7 - 8.30 p.m.
With Christina Garcia & Eric Nicholas
Dress in warm clothing and bring blankets, refreshments provided.
Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
Register by calling (510) 636-1684 or visit www.ebparks.org. This is a free event.