University Lowbrow Astronomers


by Charlie Nielsen
Printed in Reflections: May, 2010.

That was the name we choose for an event done by or club for the Chelsea Adult Learners Institute. I was contacted by a representative of this group during the second half of last year. Chelsea ALI is an organization that runs a series of classes which cover a wide range of topics. The class attendees are mostly retirees from the area, and they have to pay a small tuition for each class. The “season” runs for several weeks and some of the classes have several sessions. Not wanting to over commit us, I choose to do a single 2 hour plus session, on April 22, from 7 to 10 PM. In my conversation with ALI’s rep, Jan Carr I mentioned the nature of our SMP presentation last year and she thought that was just the kind of thing they were looking for. The club’s Saturday Morning Physics talk was titled “From Ann Arbor to the Universe”, so we just substituted Chelsea. Since the SMP talk had to be limited to one hour including demos, and we had 2 hours for Chelsea ALI, we expanded upon the SMP Power Point presentation. It is a pretty fat file now.

The Lowbrow team for the task was Jack Brisbin, Arthur Suits, and this author. Jack and Arthur were the main presenters, and I ran several demos. The 3 of us met several times to go over the SMP file and determine what we wanted to cut, what we wanted to add, and what we wanted to modify. We also discussed what demos we wanted to run. Of course we would like to do the now famous “Flaming Eyeball” demo from SMP, but we did not have the necessary equipment. It was also decided that we would hold a mini open house after the presentation on the grounds of Silver Maples, the site of the event. This is a retirement community located in the southeast part of Chelsea. The light from the building and the parking lot was horrible of course, but we figured the main targets would be the Moon, Mars, Saturn and maybe a couple of other brighter objects anyway. Jack and I attended a lecturer introduction meeting a few weeks before the date. This was very useful because we could check out the room and facilities that we would be using. These facilities turned out to be great. We had a large room, and a fine projection system. We came up with tables and an easel for demos.

Fifteen people signed up for our class, which I hear is a typical number. I believe there were two no-shows, but our event coordinator and our A/V person stayed to watch the show. We only practiced about 1.5 times, and the “1” was just a few hours before the live event. As it turns out this was not an issue since we were all very smooth come show time, and everything worked as planned. As I stated earlier, Jack and Arthur did the Power Point presentation parts, and I ran demos. One exception was when Jack did a mirror grinding demo for them. I used a scope, camera and PC, and a little help from a heat gun to demonstrate turbulence. I also used the club’s laser optics demo kit and one of the NSN toolkits to demonstrate how refractor and reflector telescopes work. We also had versions of these and a catadioptric design to show them the real animals. We got pushed for time late in the class and spilled a little over the two hours, which did not leave time for questions. As it turns out this did not matter since the skies cleared up nicely just in time for our little open house outside. And, to the rescue came fellow Lowbrows Liz and Margaret, packing their fine 8” Orion Intelliscope. They were setup and running in time for us to come out. Arthur had his homemade 14” DOB setup in the classroom, and I had my little 66 mm ED refractor. We dragged these scopes outside to use also. I have to admit that mine may have been a little easier to pick up and walk with! Since this part of the program worked for us too (thank you Mother Nature) then the attendees could still ask all their pent up questions.

Thanks to everyone that made this program happen, and did our club proud. It all went very well. It appeared to me that the “students” were engaged and learned something, though some parts may have been a little deeper than they expected. They certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. We have some feedback info yet to come as of this writing. I bet it will be mostly positive, and I would not be surprised to get asked to do this program again.

Special thanks to Margaret and Liz for providing the images of the outside session.

Photo Credits


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