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School Talk: Get a clear view of the night sky

By: Vicki Barber
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If you’ve been wondering about what’s behind all the clouds, there actually is a sky out there with all kinds of amazing sights. Once our storms clear up, you can view that sky at the Rotary Club of Cameron Park Community Observatory. If the observatory is new to you, it’s not to over 5,000 people who came out to visit and enjoy the sky last year. Granted many of the visitors are your children on field trips, but many of you came back later or heard enough about the observatory to turn out for several solar events that took place in 2009. Like so many of the children who have visited and looked through one of the observatory’s telescopes, I still remember going to our local park one evening when I was in the fourth grade. There was a special viewing of an eclipse of the moon. We stood in line for what seemed like hours for a very quick look through a large telescope loaned to the park for just this one evening. I never was quite sure what I saw in my quick peek through the lens, but whatever it was, it was important enough to remember the experience so many years later. If you haven’t availed yourself of such an experience or provided it for a child, you may want to do so. The Community Observatory is a partnership between the Cameron Park Rotary Club, Folsom Lake College’s El Dorado Center, and the El Dorado County Office of Education. Although these are the major players in the organization and operation of the observatory, there were a number of community sponsors, agencies, businesses, and individuals that helped put this project together. When you come to visit, just come prepared. Prepare to be dazzled by the sky’s offerings for one thing, but we don’t want you to be surprised by the temperatures. Although the two telescopes are technically in a building, the building is open to the sky so the temperature feels more like being outdoors. Bring a sweater or jacket even in the summer. We also encourage folks not to bring flashlights or to look at lights before looking at the sky. The less you are looking into bright lights, the easier it is to see the sky’s offerings. There’s a little bit of a walk so, although bringing your binoculars or telescopes is encouraged, if your viewing apparatus is heavy, bring a small cart for ease of transportation. All of the preparations are in place, so what will you see? Well, how about planets, stars, constellations, planetary nebulas, galaxies and star clusters. Not enough? How about the remnants of a supernova? Print a sky chart at skymaps.com and see if you can find what’s visible. This is science in action and what a great way to enjoy an evening with your kids. Vicki L. Barber has been with the El Dorado County Office of Education for 26 years. In 1994, she was elected as the Superintendent of Schools.