Pioneer School Science Fair Star Party, Monday 2/3/2003

by Bruce Jensen

Once again, Pioneer Elementary School in Union City hosted its wonderful annual Science Fair for the grade K-5 students who attend, and once again, the good astronomers of the San Francisco Bay Area came through to provide a great sideshow for the children and their parents. The kids and their science displays were decidely the real "stars" of the show, with dozens of excellent projects on display in the cafeteria, but with the assistance of about ten swell amateur astronomers, the star party was able to extend out of the cafeteria doors and into the darkened night.

And what a night it was! The air was crisp and dry with only light breezes, with atmospheric seeing ranged from good to outstanding between the hours of 6:30 and 9 p.m., and about 400 people came out and milled around with us under the winter sky. It was perhaps the best set of conditions we've had to date, and allowed us to show off some objects that we haven't always been able to exhibit successfully before.

Despite the overall minima of organization on my part this year, we had a grand show of support from the amateur community. Scopes ranging from 80mm to 18 inches were available for examination of the highlights of the February firmament. Before about 7 p.m. the 3-day-old moon was the highlight, setting early but followed by stunning view of Saturn (with rings and moons), Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites, Orion and it's deepsky showpiece M42, the "37" Cluster also in Orion, the Double Cluster, and the three big M clusters in Auriga. Thanks to a new tracking device, I was able to give 225x views of the snazzy bright planetary Eskimo Nebula in Gemini, and toward the end of the evening, even a glimpse of planetary Abell 12, snuggled up next to Mu Orionis seemingly to escape the growing chill of the night. Mike Peck informed me that he even managed to show off the Andromeda Galaxy to good effect, thanks to the clear dry air that we often do not find in the California winter.

The children and their parents seemed very pleased; with shows like this, maybe we will encourage another generation of youngsters to join our ranks, and perhaps even become serious professionals ready to conquer the next set of astronomical challenges that we will undoubtedly face in the coming decades.

Thanks to the children and parents of Union City for their appreciation and support - it is very gratifying to us to have their interest and to see their positive reactions to the beauty and intrigue of the night sky. Thanks to Principal Stanley, Vice Principal Eaton and Science Coordinator Mrs. Bartlett for their gracious help and encouragement (especially shutting off those lights - hooray!). A cheer for the personage, whoever that may have been, that delivered to us such a sparkling night for this year's event. Next, a personal and heartfelt thanks from me to all the fine people and good friends who helped bring the sky closer to the people of Pioneer Elementary School (no scope too big or too small!):

All of these generous folks really helped people see amazing things that are otherwise (and all too often) invisible to city-dwellers.

A special thank you to Rita Derbas, whose onsite assistance in many ways helped to make the evening a success. She brought enthusiasm and a significant level of help to this frazzled coordinator. She also brought to us this nice evening quote from young William Anderson, "The first thing dad taught me about telescopes is 'no hands'."

It was a sweet night, and one whose memory will endure for many years.

May your nocturnal way lit gently lit by distant suns.