While many Baton Rouge residents would have been glad to get out of the sun on Saturday, visitors to Highland Road Park Observatory were standing in line, waiting for our closest star to come out of the clouds.
Only in the full fury of its heat would guests at International Astronomy Day be able to see sunspots on its surface through special binoculars, said Murali Chakravarthi, vice president of the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society, and member Chris Desselles.
The tiny spots, which showed up as black dots of varying sizes on the sun’s surface, are essentially the magnetic storms that are cooler than the surface of the sun.
Amateur stargazers and stargazers in training spent the day at the Highland Road Park Observatory to learn more about the universe beyond our atmosphere, and to get more familiar with the tools and sciences used to study them.
Tyler Normand, 9, a third-grader at Mayfair Laboratory School, was especially impressed with the static
“It’s the same kind of electricity that can pull your hair up,” Tyler said, as he took a break from playing with the robots on display to explain what they were doing.
Tyler and his friend Liam Trahan, a third-grader at Central Intermediate School, were sweating in their Cub Scout uniforms, but it barely slowed them down.
Liam, who is 8 years “and three quarters” old, explained the robot in question was designed to launch flying discs across the field with a perfect spin every time.
Liam’s job, he said, was to try and catch them.
“Most of the time they hit the ground,” Liam said, but that didn’t stop them from trying.
The Cubs, from Pack 13 sponsored by Blackwater Methodist Church in Central, were attempting to earn the Luis W. Alvarez Supernova Award, which includes learning about science, astronomy and computer coding, all three of which were covered at the observatory, said Liam’s mother, Jeannette McMahan Trahan.
The pack enjoyed the day, she said, and went back to their headquarters with a telescope donated to them.
Shortly after the Cub Scouts got back to work trying to catch those projectiles, a group of girls joined in the fun, and Parkview Baptist School’s Engineering and Robotics Team deployed a second robot, this one built to toss giant inflated balls the size of stabilization balls.
The robots were also mobile, and occasionally Shawn Liner, the faculty adviser for the team, would turn the robot to face a different direction, sending children racing across the field, trying to position themselves in the ball’s path.
The machines were entries into the FIRST Robotics competition. FIRST is an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, said Kayla Reeves, a senior on the team who handles marketing and image for PERT.
Woodlawn and Episcopal high schools, who also have robotics teams, also had their entries on hand earlier in the day, she said.
Liner, a physics, chemistry and engineering teacher, said the team itself was a great way to get students interested in science careers, and judging by the popularity of the demonstrations, a good way to get younger children interested in electronics and coding.
That’s one reason Sarah Storer, a junior and the team’s programmer, decided against a career in communications.
“I wanted to be an editor at a magazine or something like that, but because of my chemistry teacher (Liner), I got interested in chemistry. So I did a chemistry internship, and realized that a lot of that was sitting in a lab,” Storer said.
The robotics team showed her a mix of lab work and field work that is a more comfortable fit.