University Lowbrow Astronomers


by Charlie Nielsen
Printed in Reflections: January, 2008.

On December 4th, 2007 a group of Lowbrows came together to help some Cub Scouts earn a merit badge. The event was held at Knox Presbyterian Church at Scio Church and Wagner Roads.

After I was contacted about this event, I sent a recruitment email out to the general membership, and several of us replied. I also asked for a team leader since I was concerned about how much time I would have available to manage this event properly. Long term Lowbrow, Brian Ottum stepped up to the plate and bravely volunteered. Brian put a great program together that directly gave the scouts the knowledge that was required for the mission at hand. The Lowbrow team consisted of this author, Brian Ottum, Arthur Suits, Belinda Lee, Yasu Inugi, and Lee Vincent.

Belinda and Lee

The event started around 7:00 PM with Brian showing the scouts a slide show presentation. That lasted about 15 minutes and then the scouts returned to the gymnasium, where three tables were set up. The first table had scopes and some binoculars. Belinda had her excellent Questar 90mm Duplex, Lee had an Orion Star Blast 4.5 inch DOB, and I provided my Orion 90mm Short Tube Refractor. The table was staffed by Belinda and Lee. At this station the scouts learned about the different types of telescopes, and took there turns focusing them. We had images of Jupiter, Saturn, and M42 taped to an opposite wall in the gym. We discovered the atmosphere was very steady that evening, and our tracking was dead on. We laughed at the concept of clouds. If that was not enough to ensure viewing, we were in a house of God. Anyway, before the scouts left that station they had to draw an arrow on a diagram showing which end to look through for a refractor, and a Newtonian. They had to write down how they focused the telescope or binoculars.


At station 2 the scouts were shown some models of the scale of the solar system, and had to answer some questions. This station was staffed by me, aka: Charlie, and Yasu. Brian had provided a honey dew melon to represent the sun, and then had various marbles, seeds, and a grain of sand to show the scale of the 8 planets, and poor Pluto, compared to the Sun. Yasu calculated the relative distance for Mercury, Venus, and Earth. He taped the models of those planets to chairs and we placed them in the gym at the correct distance from the melon; I mean Sun. We had the scouts go out to the chairs and look back at the Sun to give them an idea how big space really is. The deliverables from the scouts were drawing a diagram of the solar systems and labeling the planets. They were supposed to do this for asteroids and comets as well, but Yasu and I blew that part. Easy now there Mr. Newsletter Editor, we did talk about comets! After they drew the diagram, they were asked as a group, several questions relating to solar system objects as well as other things such as red giants, galaxy, star, comet, meteor, black hole, etc. We talked about one of these objects until one of the scouts shouted out the correct answer. They then checked that answer off the list.


Station 3 was held down by Arthur. He was using a PC to show the scouts observatories and their locations, while explaining why they were in those locations. Arthur also talked about what amateur and professional astronomers do, and what school subjects would help them get a job in astronomy. To complete this step, the scouts needed to write the answers to the previous questions, and locate 3 observatories on a map of North America. Brian also helped at this table at times.

The scouts broke into three groups as soon as they went to the tables, so they did not all start at just one. This helped the flow of the 35 to 100,000 scouts that participated, though the number was closer to the lower one. After 20 minutes at the first table a whistle was blown, and they had to move to a different table. After visiting all 3 tables, they turned in their papers. Finally, each one had to describe at least one thing that they had learned in this exercise. No doubt due to the enormous capacity of the Lowbrows present to teach, coach, help, nurture, and guide these young minds, they all passed. Ok, just thought I would blow our own horn. But really, this event was a big success. Just before the scouts left, the scout leaders had them gather in a group and do a hip, hip hurray for the Lowbrows. Again, Brian put a very nice program together on a pretty short time frame, and supervised it well. Thanks for a job well done to him and the other Lowbrows that made sure this happened. The scout leaders seemed pleased and impressed, and will be showing up with the crew for an open house soon. Soon; in relation to how soon we may actually get weather to do an open house. The whole event ran 2 hours at most, so it was very efficient. This was yet another example of one of the things that this club does very well, and many of us enjoy doing it. There will be plenty more to come, so next time think about joining in and discovering what I mean.

Group Photo

Included in this article are several pictures from the event. If the Lowbrow group shot is published [the photo above], I apologize for not seeing Arthur leave before I could stop him. I think you will find the images pretty self-explanatory.

Photo Credits

All photos on this page were taken by Charlie Nielsen.


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This page originally appeared in Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers (the club newsletter).
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