In classrooms around the country, astronomers love asking the trick question: Can you name the nearest star?
Because we associate stars with the night sky we are often blind to the obvious answer. The Sun, of course ,is the closest star and despite the name Night Sky Network clubs visit classrooms in the daytime as well. When they do, they often bring telescopes with filters that make solar viewing a very safe activity.
Even during periods of low sunspot activity the sun is a very interesting telescopic object and with specialized equipment called a hydrogen-alpha filter available to some clubs, a view of the Sun can be as unforgettable as seeing the Moon or Saturn through a telescope for the first time.
The day before the 1000th event was posted on the Night Sky Network, the South Bay Astronomical Society hosted an event with 120 students, teachers and parents at the Whaley School in Compton, California. The event included an in-class presentation using the ToolKits and other materials provided by the Night Sky Network.
The class of 30 students then went outside to view sunspots through a properly filtered telescope. "In the evening," Night Sky Network Coordinator, Joseph Fierstein said, "Six members of South Bay Astronomical Society setup telescopes for a star party open to all students and their parents." A star party is a public viewing event where amateur astronomers share their telescopes and knowledge of the night sky with others.
The following day, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a smaller group of students did some solar viewing as well. The Sun shone the equally for both Compton and Sioux Falls with both groups able to enjoy a view of a large sunspot group that was visible that day. The Sioux Empire Astronomy Club coordinator noted that, "none of the students had ever seen a sunspot or viewed the sun through a filtered telescope before."
From Compton to Sioux Falls, Night Sky Network clubs can bring the Sun (and other stars) into the classroom while sharing lessons about the discovery of planets around other stars. As to the other trick question, the nearest inhabited planet lies beneath our feet about as close as you can get. Even if you are in the International Space Station, the Earth is only 356 kilometers (223 miles) below.
If you are interested in having amateur astronomers bring starlight or first-time views of the sun or planets to your group, contact the Night Sky Network club nearest you.
To find one, go to our club locator page