Two months ago, Forrest Road Elementary School second-graders remotely controlled a professional telescope and photographed cool images of a mighty hot event - a solar eruption.
In fact, the students' time-lapse of the images is so cool, it has received the most clicks of all the images from the event posted on a scientific website.
As of Thursday, the video at spaceweather.com has attracted more than 21,500 views, said Michael Johnson, external programs coordinator for Columbus State University's Coca-Cola Space Science Center.
Johnson visited Bethany Getz's second-grade class at Forrest Road on April 21. He guided the students through a session using the center's Real-time Interactive Solar Observatory.
RISO is an educational outreach program funded in partnership through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and continued support from MeadWestvaco Corp., which sponsors the observatory at CSU's space science center. RISO is available for teachers from anywhere in the world to instruct their students on science standards through the online telescope sessions.
The standard Getz taught her students that day was about the attributes of stars and the patterns of the Sun and the Moon. Amauri Williams, 8, was one of Getz's students. Thursday, he took a break from his summer break and returned to school to help Getz explain to the Ledger-Enquirer the difference between using a textbook and a telescope to learn about a solar eruption.
"It's cool and weird at the same time," Amauri said.
Amauri: "It's cool because I've never seen the Sun do that before."
Getz: "Why not?"
Amauri: "Because I don't have a telescope. Even if I did, I'd need some special lens."
Getz: "Why would you need a lens?"
Amauri: "Because the Sun is too bright, and it's going to burn your eyes and make you blind."
Getz: "Good job."
The students took about 20 images in a 1-hour span to produce the 28-second time-lapse video.
"They created images that are the quality of a professional astronomer," Tina Cross, a retired teacher on part-time assignment as the Muscogee County School District's liaison with the space science center, told the Muscogee County School Board during its meeting last week. "This is fantastic for students, but when you consider these are second-graders, that kind of makes it world meaning."
Johnson added, "There are a lot of programs out there in which they get the results, but the professional astronomers actually take the images. For this one, they're actually controlling the telescope and taking those images on their own."
What looks like a "a little blip" of a solar eruption actually reached an estimated 80,000 miles into space, Cross said, equivalent to stacking 10 Earths on top of each other. No wonder the eruption is nicknamed Getz's Dragon.
"It just brings science to life for these kids," Getz told the school board, "and to be able to access that in our own community free of cost, I think it's just an invaluable resource."
Forrest Road's session is an example of the partnership the Muscogee County School District has with the center. The district paid CSU $64,000 this past school year for the center to serve all 32 MCSD elementary schools, whether it's the mobile unit visiting schools for astronomy sessions or the classes visiting the center's planetarium, exhibit gallery, NASA artifacts and hands-on science. The center has been hosting MCSD's sixth-grade classes the past 18 years for activities such as a 2-hour simulated mission to Mars in the Challenger Learning Center.
"We appreciate so much being able to continue that and expand the program to our schools," MCSD superintendent David Lewis told the school board. "This is an example of what can be accomplished in the classroom and with students at a very young age."