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Dark Skies Awareness Blog from Thilina Heenatigala

Globe at Night and Online Classes

I started teaching online astronomy classes for the Community College of Aurora (Colorado) and Metropolitan State University of Denver more than 15 years ago. Teaching an observational science through the Internet can be a particular challenge because I have always felt the need for students to have some kind of real introduction to the night sky, rather than just textbook exercises. The loss of dark skies is not just a problem in big cities. Light pollution encroaches even on pristine wilderness areas. Here the lights of Wildernest, a vacation condominium community at the foot of Buffalo Mountain at Silverthorne, Colorado, are reflected on Dillon Reservoir. Just beyond the right edge of this image, the lights of Silverthorne proper further hinder the view of starry skies. But beyond the glare of electric lights, above the Eagle's Nest Wilderness, shine some the fainter stars in Canis Minor, Gemini, Monoceros and Orion in this stunning shot by Daniel McVey. Photo courtesy of Daniel McVey, and . Because of this, I developed a series of activity assignments that require students to make some simple observation or perform some simple experiment on their own. Students estimate the altitude and azimuth of stars and the Moon, "weigh" the Earth with a simple pendulum, and measure the circumference of the Earth using a simulation of Eratosthenes' famous experiment. Due to the nature of the activity, some of these (e.g., the Eratosthenes observation) are geared toward students in the Denver area, or require significantly more time on my part checking the... Read More..