By Coggin Heeringa, Director, Crossroads at Big Creek
We’ve eagerly been anticipating green at Crossroads at Big Creek. Already, mosses in the forests, buds in the garden, stems of the shrubs are showing green. And in the night sky, a green object has just passed the orbit of Mars and it’s coming our way. It’s Comet Atlas, and we already can see it from the telescope in the Leif Everson Observatory.
But, alas, the Observatory is closed to the public, as are all of the buildings at Crossroads. So how on Earth can you look through the Door Peninsula’s Astronomical Society’s telescope? We have the technology!
Thanks to a grant from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, for the second year, the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society (DPAS) has teamed up with Crossroads to offer outreach programs about space.
Last year, DPAS purchased an inflatable digital planetarium and using grant funds, “took it on the road.” In collaboration with the Door County Library System, DPAS members offered shows to YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs, and presented programs in branch libraries all the way to Washington Island. They presented programs in schools and Bible Schools and to adults through Learning in Retirement.
Crossroads at Big Creek also offered astronomy more than a dozen astronomy programs at the Learning Center and at branch libraries. I presented one of my favorite demonstrations, ”The Comet Chef,” which I learned at a workshop sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
Wearing my Comet Chef hat, comet apron, safety goggles, and insulated gloves, I create a model of a comet, using a “comet recipe” calling for dirt (to represent rocks and interplanetary dust), cola (to represent organic materials…carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen), ammonia, (which is an organic compound) and water. Essentially, these were the “ingredients” in the original solar nebula from which comets were formed.
Then, using dry ice to represent the cold temperatures of outer space, I mix the “comet ingredients” to create a lump which really does resemble the nucleus of a comet, right down the out-gassing when the “rocky iceball” begins to disintegrate.
I have to confess that any demonstration using dry ice is impressive, and thousands of Door County students have gasped in amazement at the comet demonstration. Rare is the group that didn’t want to know if I had seen a real comet.
Yes. I saw Comet Hale-Bopp (which was stunning) and Comet Hyakutake. Did I see Hailey’s Comet? Yes, sort of. It was disappointing, but I was thrilled for my grandma who willed herself to stay alive long enough to see it twice.
But the kids all want to know—will they ever see a comet? Maybe. Maybe soon.
Like all comets, Comet Atlas (C/2019Y4) goes by the name of its discoverer, in this case the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii. And by May, Comet Atlas might be bright enough to see without a telescope. Or it may disintegrate like the Great Comet of 1844. It might even be a fragment of that comet. Or not. We just don’t know.
But, thanks to the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society and the Leif Everson Observatory, you can watch the progress of the comet from the safety and comfort of your own home. Simply ‘LIKE’ the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society or Crossroads at Big Creek on Facebook and you’ll have access to recent images. When the society’s telescopes are operating, you’ll see a link to view real-time images via Night Skies Network. The comet will be green.
But what about seeing some green on Earth? The preserves at Crossroads are open to walking, biking, hiking and running, but please practice social distancing.
The Collins Learning Center, Stonecipher Astronomy Center, and Leif Everson Observatory are closed. The trails are open and, as always, free of charge.