Monday, April 2, 2012

Star Party at the H.M.S Beagle in Parkville

By Mr. Rogers

H.M.S Beagle Science Store
180 English Landing Drive, Parkville, Missouri, 64152

telephone: 816-587-9998


Cost: Free

Parking: Plentiful on the night we were there.

Age Appropriate: If they are old enough to point to the moon they could enjoy it. But be warned, kids younger than 10 will have problems since the telescope eyepieces are usually far off the ground. I had to hold my kids up to all the telescopes, just a minor inconvience. If I go again I will probably bring a milk crate for them to stand on.

I have to say this was pretty darn cool.

This wasn't a KC Dads outing (it was just my family) but it easily could be one. The Star parties take place every month from April thru November and a schedule with start times and a list of the various objects to be observed can be found on The H.M.S Beagle website.

We didn’t know what to expect but found it to be well worth the trip to Parkville. Our evening began with visit to the H.M.S Beagle store where they sell a wide range of science items. The kids loved wandering the store looking at all the kits, fossils, rocks, beakers, toys and equipment. We especially like the rocks, but what kid doesn’t. We ended up purchasing an actual fossil and a beautiful selection of rocks of various colors and textures as we passed the time waiting for the event to begin.

At 7:30 Mr. Leif Bahl started the program in the store with a slide presentation discussing what he hoped to show us. I was pleasantly surprised by the talk, it was very informative and gave me a new appreciation for hobby of star gazing. Did you know that line between the dark and light side of the moon was the best place to see the moons features, cause that is where the shadows are longest. Makes sense but I bet you never would have thought of it. He went on to explain a host of other things about nebula and star clusters and Messier objects. He was good with the kids and answered all of their questions. Many of which consisted of “I have seen the moon on my way to school” and "The Mars rover took a picture on my birthday”. (those knuckle balls were thrown at him by my two darling rocket scientists). At about 8:15 we headed out to the gravel space next to the parking lot as Leif set up the telescope on it’s first target.

You are welcome to bring your own telescope, which three other individuals chose to do. The multiple telescopes meant there always seemed to be something different to look at. We simply walked between telescopes and waited in line to see what the owner had it pointed at.

The various equipment was also interesting and appealed to my inner Tim Allen. One guy's telescope was mounted with a lasor beam to help in aiming (so very cool). And I don't even know how to begin to describe the astronomy app on his iPad, all I can say it was freak'n awsome.

All in all we saw Mars Venus, Jupiter, the Orion nebula, the Pleiades star cluster, and the moon of course. My 5 year old was into looking at everything she could, which foretells a promising career in Astrophysics I am sure. My 8 year old, however, was so busy playing tag with the other children in the gravel that he only looked twice in a telescope and at some very lame objects to boot. You can lead a horse to water…..

The lame objects happened to be Mars and Venus. I don't mean to be disrespecting our nearest neighbors. It was kind of cool seeing them with my own eyes but, unfortunately, they just look like little balls. I guess I was hoping make out the rover on it or something. In contrast, I was floored by the clarity of the mountains and craters on the moon. You see the moon almost every night but the telescope really makes it pop. The biggest thrill was seeing three of the actual moons of Jupiter with my own eyes. You could also just barely make out the lines of color streaking across Jupiter’s surface. Had we stayed a little longer we could have seen a fourth moon appear from behind it but it was getting late and the kids needed to get home. We left around 9pm

Food Options: The event takes place at dusk so you likely will have already eaten but there are many nice places nearby to grab a nice dinner/dessert should you prefer to eat in Parkville. (which I have not done but hope to one of these days) Snacks for the little ones will come in handy when watching the slide show and waiting for the telescopes to be moved between objects.

If you have any interest in star gazing this is definitely a must see event. The staff at the H.M.S Beagle are friendly and helpful both in the store and behind a telescope. I had a telescope as a kid but having it in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing and where to look makes all the difference in the world. Before you make your trip out to Parkville, be sure to check the website to get an idea of what objects are in the sky and be warned that clear skies are a must for this event (But they do post make-up dates).