Star Search

Jamestown High School students with an interplanetary interest now have an outlet for their hobby.

This is because the school now offers a newly formed astronomy club, which teaches students how to build and use telescopes as well as locate celestial bodies.

The club was formed around the middle of the school year by Steve Propheter, a physics teacher. According to Propheter, he decided to form the club in order to provide students with a branch of science that isn’t widely taught in the education system.

“This is a part of science that we don’t really get to explore a whole lot,” said Propheter. “And the kids don’t really have anything that they can do just for fun without having homework and stuff like that. So I asked (about) student interest and there were a lot of students coming back to me and saying they would love to do that because they were really fascinated by celestial objects. So, we’re teaching them how to locate celestial objects, and it’s been going pretty good so far.”

The club meets on a weekly basis and discusses astronomical objects that, weather permitting, they may be able to view for themselves throughout the following week or month. At its meeting Thursday, discussion centered around Comet C/2011 L4, also known as Pan-STARRS. Discovered in 2011, Pan-STARRS is expected to be visible to the naked eye throughout the month of March. It will appear just above the western horizon after sunset, and will increase in magnitude as the month progresses. After the comet passes through the Milky Way, Pan-STARRS is not projected to return to Earth for another 110,000 years.

Propheter said that the group is trying to arrange “astronomy nights,” in which the club would go out to observe the objects that they have been learning about. Other meetings have included activities such as learning about telescope lenses, how they work and how to properly set them up. Students have also assembled their own Galileoscope kits, which were purchased with grant money for the club members.

According to Propheter, he attempts to teach content that aligns with student interests.

“We’re always looking for something (new),” he said. “Sometimes we ask the kids for ideas of what they’d like to do and see. I try to keep it that way so it piques their interest.”

Currently, the club has 15 members. Because the club is new, however, it is faced with a lack of equipment. While some money has been provided by JHS’ 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, Propheter said that the students have been looking to local businesses for funding.

“We’re just getting the fundraisers going, so we haven’t actually had any of those yet,” he said. “We’re trying to get ahold of businesses for tag days. Whatever we can do with our small amount of students to raise the money.”

Propheter said that the club hopes to raise approximately $1,000, which would enable them to purchase a decent telescope and a pair of binoculars that would also be of use for future club members. His hope is to be able to have the club’s activities culminate in a trip to Martz Observatory in Frewsburg at the end of the school year.