Students and teachers across South Carolina will be able to peer into space and view images of the sun, moon and stars using a remotely controlled telescope set up at a new observatory opening next month at the State Museum.
“My students will be over-the-moon ecstatic, no kidding,” said teacher Amy Baldwin, 36, a science teacher from Oakbrook Middle School near Charleston who teaches pre-engineering and robotics.
Baldwin said her students will be eager to get a chance to work with the 16-foot-long telescope, built by a family known for producing some of the nation's premier telescopes.
“They will want to reverse engineer it, and to try to figure out how to build one,” said Baldwin of the 1926 Alvan Clark refracting telescope.
Baldwin came to the State Museum in Columbia in mid-July to see the new setup in advance of the museum's Aug. 16 opening after its $23 million renovation. Baldwin is one of six teachers working on a pilot project tying schools and the new observatory together.
“There won't be anyone complaining class is boring now,” predicted Tim Davis, an eighth-grade science teacher at Saluda Trail School in Rock Hill, another teacher in the project. “I think it will have a huge impact.”
Davis, 50, said he often has trouble teaching abstract concepts like force and motion in his science classes. Now, he said, he will have a very real way to teach subjects like planetary rotation and the phases of the moon
“I think kids will not only say, ‘Wow, so cool,’ I think they may say, ‘Wow, I want this to be my life!’” Davis said.
The museum has built a classroom next to the telescope to host classes. Daytime and evening viewing hours are also being set for members of the public.
Museum spokeswoman Anna Kate Twitty says special programs will be held during celestial events, such as eclipses.
Aerospace giant Boeing Co., which builds 787 jetliners in Charleston, contributed $1 million to the renovation. Boeing is also helping pay for the teacher training, said Twitty. The observatory is being named for the firm, she said.
The museum's director of education, Tom Falvey, said museum backers want to ensure students from every kind of school, even those in economically challenged areas of South Carolina, will participate.
“We will be able to put technology in the hands of kids from small towns in South Carolina who may not have had the access to that kind of education before,” he said.
Besides the observatory, the museum is adding a 145-seat planetarium, a 4-D movie theater, a gallery to show off the museum's antique telescope collection, and additional galleries to show off the museum's technical and art treasures.
“It's exciting,” said Gary Senn, the director of the Dupont Planetarium at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Senn said the museum's Alvan Clark telescope is a rare treasure. Senn called the museum's telescopes “possibly the best in the nation. It's a wonderful collection.”
Senn, whose doctoral degree is in science education, said other observatories in the region have outreach programs for teachers and students, such as the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in North Carolina. But the interactive aspect of the new observatory “is certainly not commonplace,” Senn said.