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All eyes to the sky

Stargazers gather at Coal City Intermediate for Astronomy Night

Coal City Intermediate School students lined up to look at the sky through a giant telescope during an astronomy program Thursday night outside of the school.
Coal City Intermediate School students lined up to look at the sky through a giant telescope during an astronomy program Thursday night outside of the school.

COAL CITY — Coal City Intermediate School students, their families and some teachers met up at the school’s playground after nightfall Thursday evening.

Their goal was to see the stars, and even Jupiter, through the lens of a telescope.

Fifth-grade science teachers Jennifer Rink and Neil Nicholson coordinated the event, which was the school’s annual Astronomy Night.

Nicholson said the event is a nice way to engage students outside of the classroom, as well as to bring in some experts in the field. The main telescope on hand was manned by a retired Joliet Junior College instructor who is also part of the Kankakee Area Star Gazers Club.

“We always have them come in every year and they do a really nice job of showing everything,” Nicholson said.

Rink said the evening is timed to what students learn in the classroom.

“The fifth grade just finished studying the solar system and the fourth grade is currently, so it goes well with our curriculum,” she said.

Student stargazers formed a long line along the edge of the basketball court to take a look through the telescope. Rink said she expected about 50 to 60 people to show up for the evening.

“We usually have a really nice turnout,” she said, scanning the playground area. “I think it’s a great turnout for cold weather.”

After taking a look, attendees went inside the cafeteria to warm up and to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Principal Tracy Carlson said the night is always an enjoyable one.

“I just love that our two fifth-grade teachers do something like this,” she said. “It’s not that much, but it gets the children excited about science.”

As they waited for the their cocoa to cool, classmates Amelia Bell and John Majesky, who are both 10 and in the fifth grade, talked about what they saw. Majesky said he had a hard time focusing at first, but was able to see stars that were lightyears away much closer than he’d seen before.

“It was pretty cool,” he said.

“It was amazing,” Bell added. “I’m surprised I could see everything.”

Majesky said he learned that the stars he was viewing were about 20 lightyears away, to be more precise.

“That’s far, far away,” his grandmother, Linda Wills, added.

Of the experience, Majesky said his favorite part was being able to see through the equipment that was brought to the school.

“That there’s technology out there that actually allows us to see that far away,” he said.

At another table, Zander Hanley, 9, a fourth grader, and his sister Sam Hanley, 10, a fifth grader, waited until the instructor would reposition the telescope for the group to see Jupiter. In the prior year, they came out to the event and were able to see Saturn and its rings.

While his sister wasn’t able to see so clearly, Zander said he was able to see close-up views of the stars.

“You could kind of see a bunch of stars,” he said. “I saw one red star, one blue star and a white star.”

He said he liked the event because its a chance to learn more about the subject.

“I just like space and everything,” he said.

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