World of Wonder, a free nature-discovery program for children and their families, will host a stargazing event March 27 at Davidson’s Fisher Farm Park.
WOW has existed for five years, and has been hosting evening stargazing events in the spring and fall since. The events, typically attended by 200 to 300 people, offer astronomy experts from the physics department at Davidson College and the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club. About 15 to 30 telescopes are set up by 8 p.m. to view various elements of the cosmos, with the experts nearby to explain what viewers are seeing.
“Typically, small groups of people gather around the astronomers, listening to their explanations and then gazing through the telescopes,” said WOW’s Pam Dykstra.
“There is always a hush – a quiet reverence for the magnitude of the cosmos and a deep appreciation for the chance to get a closer look.”
Indeed, the night sky receives a great amount of respect at the event: Attendees are asked to dim headlights prior to pulling all the way into the park; flashlights are cloaked in red cellophane provided by WOW to prevent light pollution.
“By learning about astronomy, we gain a better understanding of the Universe we live in and how large it is,” said the Davidson College physics department’s Mario Belloni.
“For example, almost everything we see in the night sky with our unaided eyes is in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It is only with a telescope that you can see beyond our galaxy.”
Belloni said that at the March 27 stargazing, some elements of the cosmos visible through telescopes include Venus, Jupiter, the moon, and stars Sirius, Betelgeuse, Polaris and Regulus. Constellations showing will include Cassiopeia, Orion, Leo, Gemini and Auriga. Observable asterisms – groups of stars smaller than constellations – will be the Winter Hexagon, Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Several deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda galaxy, the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades and Auriga open clusters will also be visible.
“Some telescopes are small refractors and some are large reflectors. They all have their benefits and drawbacks,” said Belloni.
“Typically, several telescopes will be pointing at the same celestial object and it is worth looking through several telescopes to see which view you like best.”
In WOW’s experience, children seem to enjoy learning about the cosmos. For example, last year in preparation for a stargazing event, Belloni attended the WOW booth at the Davidson Farmers Market to help children build constellations out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
“Kids were so captivated by their creations that marshmallows, much to everyone’s surprise, went uneaten,” said Dykstra.
WOW provides a free local nature outing about once a month on a variety of nature topics, and with an expert to lead the outing.
“WOW programs are free,” said Dykstra, because “it’s important that these experiences are open to all, regardless of socio-economic status. We want to reinforce the message: nature is available anytime, anywhere to all. And it’s free.
“We want families to experience nature together.”
WOW Stargazing events are sponsored by WOW, educational nonprofit organization Woodland Discovery, Davidson Lands Conservancy and the town of Davidson.
Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marjorie? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Stargazing will be 8-10 p.m. March 27 at Davidson’s Fisher Farm Park, 21215 Shearer Road. WOW volunteers will be at the entrance to direct attendees to parking. No registration is required to attend. For information on WOW, or to join the mailing list, email email@example.com. In case of inclement weather that may affect stargazing, updates will be sent to the mailing list.