SCHENECTADY — Blindfolded and with different obstacles to get through, Bert Trzepacz listened to his father, Louis, give him directions so he didn’t touch the hazards when trying to pick up rocks.
Step forward, now a small step to the left, now a small step to the right were some of the directions Louis Trzepacz gave his 8-year-old son during the Mars rover activity. Bert is able to get to the end without stepping on any of the hazards.
“You’re a good robot,” Louis told his son.
It was one of the many activities kids participated in at the Dudley Observatory at miSci on Saturday. It was a day full of events celebrating National Astronomy Day.
It’s meant to bring awareness and teach people that even though NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011, that doesn’t mean people aren’t still studying astronomy.
“We’re trying to share all of NASA’s discoveries using hands on things for kids and try to get them involved, so hopefully they grow up to be scientists someday,” said Valerie Rapson, Dudley’s outreach astronomer. “We’re showing them that it’s accessible.”
The entire day was filled with different events and activities.
It included the mars rover activity, where kids were blindfolded and given verbal instructions to go through a martian obstacle course to pick up rocks.
Louis Trzepacz said the activities help kids engage with the actual topic they’re learning about.
“There’s a challenge to it,” Louis said. “It connects them to the science that they’re learning in the museum or other spaces.”
“I thought it was cool,” Bert said. “I helps me better so I can understand how rovers really work.”
There were also the planetarium shows that occurred each hour, solar observing using telescopes outside and a public meteorite talk with Heather Watson, an assistant physics and astronomy professor at Union College.
Chris Hunter, vice president of collections at miSci, also hosted a meteorite show-and-tell for kids earlier in the day.
He had the actual meteorite that hit a home on Swaggertown Road in Glenville 50 years ago. He also had samples of the different minerals, such as nickel, iron and olivine, that make up the meteorite.
There was also a model of the meteorite, which was created at the Smithsonian so it could do more research on the actual meteorite, for the kids to hold. Hunter said it was a weighted model, meaning it weighed the same as the actual meteorite.
Not a lot of people touch the actual meteorite, Hunter said, because the oils on people’s hands could ruin it.
The kids were definitely interested in it.
“They’re kind of just fascinated that something came from outer space and hit our backyard,” Hunter said. “We always find people interested in astronomy, it’s kind of one our core themes here. There’s a fascination with the night sky and what else is out there and it seems to be never ending.”
MiSci museum educator Riley Hart was hosting a station on Saturday where kids used binoculars to stare at a picture of the moon. They would end up seeing images of different animals that represented craters in the moon. It was meant to replicate what happens when a scientist uses a telescope to get a clearer picture of the moon.
“We want a scientifically literate society, and with kids, you’ve got to start somewhere,” Hart said.
It’s also a way to get kids interested in studying sciences earlier in life.
“You hope to spark their interest in science and then hopefully they carry that interest throughout their various grades in school,” said Frank Torncello, another miSci museum educator.
The day ended with the museum’s Rising Sky interns participating in night sky observations. The internship, meant for middle school and high school students, involves students learning astronomy and how to use a telescope, while also participating in different classes and doing workshops at the museum.
If they complete the program after nine months, they get their own 6-inch dobsonian telescope, which Rapson said is an easy-to-use telescope.
Luckily for those interns, Rapson said it looked like the sky would be clear on Saturday night.
“Astronomy is one of the easiest sciences to learn,” Rapson said. “Because all you have to do is step outside and look up. You see the stars, you see the moon, you see the constellations and you’re instantly intrigued.”