KINGSTON — When members of Kingston Junior High’s astronomy club travelled to a ‘star party’ in Eastern Washington last year, they were able to peer into telescopes and see swirling constellations, multicolored nebulas and enormous planets.
Now the students are working to see such images through a telescope they’ve built themselves.
The project was partially sparked by advisor and science teacher John Goar, who felt that a hands-on project was needed to make astronomy jump out of the textbook.
“Usually, you read a book, you learn concepts, but you don’t do any observations,” Goar said.
But when he took five students to Eastern Washington, Goar’s eyes were opened.
“The bug hit me,” he said. “Some of the images you see are phenomenal. There are beautiful things to see in the sky.”
When Goar returned to this half of the state, he remembered John Dobson, a man who invented a fairly cheap telescope in order to bring astronomy to the public.
The most difficult part of building such a telescope, Goar learned after some research, is the mirror: a telescope mirror is a finely-crafted jewel, measured and ground to perfection, that can cost $1,500 or more, depending on its size.
To further the research, Goar put in a phone call to Bob Mathews of Poulsbo’s Mathews optical.
The phone call turned out to be a stroke of luck that was practically sent from the cosmos: as a senior at North Kitsap High School, Mathews had built a telescope of his own.
After a few consultations, he offered to donate a piece of glass to the project — and the expertise to help grind and polish it.
“We’re following in his footsteps,” said Goar.
Students have already begun work on the mirror. They travel to Mathews’ workshop, pore over the 2 1/4-inch-thick piece of glass, and work on the future mirror under Goar and Mathews’ supervision.
“I don’t have a lot of chances to do things like this,” ninth-grader Danny Glushko said after an afternoon of working on the mirror.
Glushko was one of the students who went to the star party.
Like Goar, he put his eye to an eyepiece and was hooked right away.
“It was cool,” he said. “It really gives you thoughts on how big everything is.”
Jayson Stemmler, who is also working on the telescope, agreed.
“The stuff I saw at the star party was amazing, was beautiful,” he said after describing blurry nebulas with bright colors.
Both Glushko and Stemmler agreed that the telescope will take a long time to work on.(Goar hopes the project will be completed by spring.)
“It’s been slow, but interesting,” said Stemmler. “You learn a lot about physics and how telescopes work.”
Students have been working to carefully grind the glass’ surface to remove any roughness; they will grind it to a sphere, smooth the surface to a parabolic shape, and add an aluminum surface (which gives the mirror its reflective surface.)
Students will also participate in building the housing.
“There are a lot of different tasks,” said Goar, adding that students will learn about drafting, woodworking, planning, mathematics and astronomy.
The project has been fueled by grants from the PTSA ($200), student council ($405), and WEA Olympic Council ($1,000).
The student council also gave the club a $405 loan.
Goar also has his fingers crossed about a possible grant from NASA.
The students meet once a week. More than 40 kids are involved with the building of the telescope.
Goar said a good telescope is worth the trouble.
“There’s no reason it couldn’t last 100 years,” he said.
For the students, the goals are slightly more short-term.
“I hope to show other people what I saw through it,” Stemmler said.