Students, visitors can learn about the stars from the comfort of indoors at Southwestern Heights’ High School Observatory
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
On a warm clear night, a favorite pastime of many is to look out on a sky full of stars. In ancient times, the Greeks saw picture formations from the patterns dotting the night sky.
After a few years absence, students and visitors at Southwestern Heights High School will be able to learn about what exactly people in ancient times saw in the stars.
Saturday, Heights hosted an open house for a new piece of equipment in a room originally designed for just such a purpose.
In January 2009, an original projector was removed from the school’s observatory which was found to be the first projector at the Hutchinson Cosmosphere, and not long after that, work began on acquiring a new one for Heights.
Physics teacher Ken Schoenrock took observers through a program featuring the stars Saturday, and he said the primary features of the new projector are the stars themselves.
“You kind of get to see where the stars would be,” he said. “In a college class, it’s easy enough to bring kids in after hours at night and let them look up at the stars and point out where they are.”
Schoenrock said with high school students, this is a little more difficult.
“It’s a really unique opportunity that we can bring the kids down during the day, during their class and show them where the stars are,” he said. “They can go home and impress their parents. That’s kind of fun.”
The dome where the stars are projected has been in place since Southwestern Heights was built, as was the original projector, and Schoenrock said some help was received for the construction of the new star finder.
“Our shop classes, Mr. Cranston and his crew, built the platform for the new one,” he said. “They’re actually going to be building some more platform parts for this new one. John Mercer’s family has donated the star projector itself.”
Schoenrock said as a physics teacher, he has gotten to use the projector many times prior to Saturday’s open house.
“We’ve had the fifth grade classes from Plains over,” he said. “We’re already trying to set up some stuff for the second and third graders from Kismet to come over and take a look. We’re hoping to get back where we were several years back where other schools and groups and other organizations will be able to come in and take a look at a planetarium without having to drive to Hutch or Amarillo.”
Schoenrock said the reaction from students and adults has been a positive one.
“It’s very unique,” he said. “It’s fun to have this. The kids love to come down here and take a look at it. They want to come down here because it’s dark and it’s quiet. They think they’re going to mess around a little bit, but when they get down here and actually start looking at it, they start to get into it and ask questions. That’s the fun part about it.”
Heights received the star ball and projector last spring at the end of the school year, and this is when construction also began on the cabinet case used to elevate the projector.
“This fall, we finally got the two together and got it placed and got it all set up,” Schoenrock said. “The first class I used it in was probably in the middle of November.”
Schoenrock said the technology used with Heights’ first projector was advanced for the time when it was first installed, but with parts becoming harder to find over the years, the equipment was put into a state of disrepair.
“For a long time, this ended up being kind of a storage place,” he said of the school’s observatory. “We spent last spring cleaning it out and this fall getting everything set up.”