Astronomy events spark interest in the heavens

Astronomical Society President Chris Cooke, center, with Principal Adrian Jones and science teacher Vimala Velusamy during the presentation of a new telescope to Layman E. Scott High School.

With the skies cooperating, the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society’s visit to the Brac last week proved a big draw for curious stargazers.

On the outreach visit on June 28, society president Chris Cooke first made a stop at the Layman E. Scott High School to present a new Galileoscope telescope, specially designed for young astronomers and school use. The telescope was one of several that the society donated to schools across the Cayman Islands that have demonstrated an interest in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, and have expressed an interest in astronomy.

Mr. Cooke also gave a talk on astronomy at a special afternoon assembly, highlighting some of the major astronomical events of note.

“Afterward, we looked at the possibility of restoring an old telescope which has been at the school for some years,” said Mr. Cooke. “We decided that it would be great idea to raise some funds to repair it.”

Later that day, following on the heels of April’s Earth Month Dinner in the Dark, the Cayman Brac District Committee of the National Trust collaborated with the society on a Night Sky Tour on the Bluff.

“It would seem the local Brackers are quite interested in viewing celestial sights,” said the Trust’s Kathleen Bodden-Harris, who helped organize the event.

The night sky was viewed through a large telescope at the site of the lighthouse on the Bluff.
The night sky was viewed through a large telescope at the site of the lighthouse on the Bluff.

About 50 people gathered at the Lighthouse on the Bluff, eager for the chance to view planetary features, constellations, scheduled satellites and even an unscheduled meteor shower.

“It’s quite unusual to note this many shooting stars (meteors) at this precise date of the year, so having this unknown meteor shower was a rare and unexpected treat,” said Mr. Cooke.

Ms. Bodden-Harris said the 10-inch Dobsonian telescope transported to the Brac just for the event offered a crystal clear view of the planetary moons and features such as the rings of Saturn.

“The crowd was treated to Jupiter and its four moons, Mars and Saturn with its rings, making for a special evening for the islanders to have such a large telescope that night,” said Mr. Cooke.

“We saw many satellites, in particular the Hubble Space telescope, as well as lots of meteors.”

He added that he was impressed with the turnout, and with how well the event was organized.

“Weather is always a variable at such gatherings, but the clouds parted, a cool breeze kept the bugs at bay, and everyone had ample time to explore deep space from the top of the 360-degree vista on the Bluff,” said Ms. Bodden-Harris.

“Chris drew the interest of both children and the ‘young at heart,’” she said. “The Brac community is grateful for the opportunity to share his extensive astronomical equipment and experience.”

Ms. Bodden-Harris said the success of the evening has spurred an interest in holding more events in the future.

“The National Trust would like to continue such seasonal viewing and hope to have Chris back to join us in September for our autumn sky night tour,” said Ms. Bodden-Harris, noting that the date will be finalized later this summer.

Mr. Cooke was pleased with the enthusiastic feedback he received from the Brac community.

“I was asked several times for a return visit in September,” he said.