New KUSD project part of survey of the stars

Telescope will look at Kuiper Belt Objects

From left to right, Chris Patrick of High Desert Astronomy, and Chris Atkinson and Sharka White of Kingman Unified School District, set up the new Celestron 11-inch telescope. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

From left to right, Chris Patrick of High Desert Astronomy, and Chris Atkinson and Sharka White of Kingman Unified School District, set up the new Celestron 11-inch telescope. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - When Deb Warren thinks about the new 11-inch reflector telescope and camera that will make its home at Mt. Tipton Elementary School in May, she can't help but be out-of-this-world excited for her students.

"The benefit for the students is that they will get exposure to a bigger world and will find out that there's more than their little community out there," said Warren, principal of the Dolan Springs school. "Any time they can get hands-on experience like this, it helps them make that connection."

Mt. Tipton elementary students and teachers will be called in during scheduled evenings to look through the telescope, collect and record data, and video what they see. The goal is to explore icy objects in an attempt to investigate the formation and evolution of the outer solar system.

The telescope is part of citizen astronomy research project involving 60 communities along the Western U.S., from Canada to Mexico. The communities form the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON), funded by the National Science Foundation.

RECON is led by planetary scientists from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. The $5 million project will last for five years and involve up to eight coordinated observation campaigns, about 30 miles apart, each year through 2019.

"The goal of RECON is to determine the sizes, densities and other characteristics of newly discovered Kuiper Belt Objects orbiting the sun beyond Neptune," said Mark Buie of the Southwest Research Institute. "Because these objects have been relatively undisturbed since their formation, they hold important clues about the origins of our solar system."

Mt. Tipton Elementary was one of only two elementary schools chosen to participate out of all the communities, said Sarka White, assessment and professional development director for KUSD, who applied for the program. The other elementary school is in Searchlight, Nev. Mostly middle and high schools have been earmarked for the research opportunity.

Training for the project and the telescope's use for all the participating communities, led by the planetary scientists, will take place for a week in March in Kingman and Pasco, Wash. Community participants will join in annual team meetings to bring the network together.

"This is huge for us, and I had to make a really good case for them to choose our elementary school," said White. "For the district, this allows us to engage in real-world scientific data research, collection and publication. We're becoming part of a network of communities just like ours."

White said she recently met with the planetary scientists from RECON and took them on a tour of the area, then explained how the community would support the project. The district has partnered with the High Desert Astronomy Club of Kingman, whose members will consult with and guide teachers, students and other groups in stargazing.

Chris Patrick, president of the astronomy club, said about six of the club's 20 members will participate in the upcoming training. The group has assisted with NASA projects in the past and is looking forward to helping KUSD with astrophotography, video recording of stars and determining the belts and moons around asteroids.

"This area is the perfect location for observing space because it's one of the darkest places in the country," said Patrick. "This telescope also can be used to help these students see the life cycles of stars and how everything in the cosmos feeds into everything else. I hope this is a big boon to the area and helps put Kingman on the map."

Not only will the public be allowed to use the telescope, said White, all classes at KUSD schools are encouraged to perform research projects. Also, students participating in the 21st Century Learning Centers at both Kingman and White Cliffs middle schools will be able to form astronomy clubs and view planets and stars.

The after-school learning centers, which opened this school year, feature services and programs for at-risk students and their families. The sites offer academics, enrichment activities, clubs and family fitness. They also promote collaboration between the schools and the community.

"For us, this is a catalyst and a fantastic program," said White. "And everyone's part in it is a little different. We're very excited about what it's going to bring to Kingman."