Recap: First Two Weeks of Summer STARS – by Jane Kelly

The first two weeks of Summer STARS have been incredibly busy! While we’ve been getting into the swing of things, we’ve also been able to work on some pretty interesting labs and activities. 

Since the Summer STARS youth will be submitting mock grant proposals for their final projects later in the program, we’ve spent a great deal of time covering background material on astronomy. We started with introductory lessons about the solar system, math for astronomy, and some history of astronomy. The group discussed the history of women and minorities in astronomy and the ways that science and culture have sometimes suppressed certain people’s scientific advancements. The Summer STARS youth especially seemed to enjoy our conversation about the mystery of the African Dogon tribe’s knowledge of Sirius B, and whether or not they obtained this knowledge themselves or from Europeans or even aliens! As instructors, we want students to be comfortable putting their ideas out there and speaking up in future jobs, whether in STEM fields or elsewhere.

The next two days of week one were spent on a few labs, including making spectroscopes and a challenge to the Summer STARS to guess the composition of a lit-up gas tube. They got very competitive, and while they were really close to guessing the tube’s composition, no one figured it out in time! It was Carbon Dioxide. We closed out the week with a video about the death of the universe–a surprisingly lighthearted note to end on!

Week two was short because of Independence Day, but it was still packed with some of the most interesting content. We covered the formation of our solar system, and used cotton candy (yum!) to demonstrate the accretion of Jovian planets like Jupiter. We spent our half-day covering exoplanets and astrobiology, which are definitely some of my favorite parts about astronomy! I think they enjoyed the activities we planned for them. We wrapped up our second week on a good note and I’m excited to see how the rest of the summer come together.

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