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NKAF Summer Space Camp Connects VT Teens to the Universe Once Again

Space camper calibrating a spectrum taken with the Planewave-17 telescope and a Star Analyzer-200 diffraction grating and processed with RSpec software in the NKAF control room under the red lights. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)

This year’s Northeast Kingdom Astronomy Foundation (NKAF) Space Camp at Northern Skies Observatory (NSO) placed an emphasis on student astronomy projects of the camper’s choice either individually or in teams. At the conclusion of the camp, campers presented a report to parents and relatives about what they studied and learned during the week. In addition to the science explorations, campers had time for games like Rubik’s Cubes and supervised trips to the beach at nearby Harvey’s Lake.

NKAF Board Secretary Dan Zucker joins the campers for a lively discussion about the life and death of stars. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)
NKAF Board Secretary Dan Zucker joins camp for a lively discussion about the life and death of stars. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)

The first night campers and families toured the Green Mountain Retreat Center and got set up before caravaning to NSO for tours. Parents and siblings were invited to stay for a family Star Party after dark. Campers were given scheduled unstructured “personal tech time” at the observatory every day throughout camp to check in with parents and friends, update social media and have a little fun downtime. 

Triangulum Galaxy imaged and processed at NSO during Space Camp. (Photograph courtesy Caitlin Vollman)
Triangulum Galaxy imaged and processed at NSO during Space Camp. (Photograph courtesy Caitlin Vollman)

Attendees this year from across the state of Vermont included four returning students from last year. The small group allowed for greater attention from educators on student projects and learning. There were opportunities for new campers and returning campers to work together, but the camp veterans were not bored as NSO has new tools available and new techniques to try. Robotic operations are dependable, so everyone could trust their work to the computers staying up late when they went off to sleep.

Pluto imaged with foreground stars - Pluto shows up 2 days apart (7.20.14 and 7.22.14) as a blue and red dot to the right of the bright star. (Photograph courtesy Mazie O'Connor)
Pluto, imaged with foreground stars, shows up here two days apart (7.20.14 and 7.22.14) as a red and blue dot to the right of the bright star. (Photograph courtesy Mazie O’Connor)
Pluto imaged with foreground stars again - Inverted image this time and the colors are reversed, so 7.20.14 is blue now and 7.22.14 is red. (Photograph courtesy Mazie O'Connor)
Pluto, imaged with foreground stars again, is inverted this time, so the colors are reversed making 7.20.14 blue now and 7.22.14 red for a different perspective. (Photograph courtesy Mazie O’Connor)

NSO was the main classroom and technical command center. The state-of-the-art small observatory allowed campers with a little training and clear skies to image galaxies, nebulae and star clusters in amazing detail. New features this year: Photometry (measuring brightness, especially of things that vary over time); Spectroscopy (obtaining spectra of stars, planets, supernovae and more to determine their composition); and video/still imaging of the Moon, Sun and planets. 

Still image of the Sun created by stacking 50 individual frames from a 60-second video for greater detail and contrast using a Lunt 80 mm H-alpha Solar Telescope with a DMK-21 video camera(Photograph courtesy Brandon Gamble)
Still image of the Sun created by stacking 50 individual frames from a 60-second video for greater detail and contrast using a Lunt 80 mm H-alpha Solar Telescope with a DMK-21 video camera. (Photograph courtesy Brandon Gamble)

An amazing list of objects were imaged using NSO’s traditional filters and the newly installed narrow band filters generously donated by Chroma Technology of Bellows Falls, VT. Processing in ImageJ and practice with image stacking and mosaic techniques resulted in incredible images of the a wide variety of nebulae: Dumbell, Bubble, Iris, Eagle, Pelican, Crab, Helix, and the Elephant Trunk. Campers also imaged the Pinwheel and Triangulum Galaxies, a portion of the Cygnus Loop, the Sun, Pluto and Saturn.

Bubble Nebula imaged at  NSO in the Hubble palette. (Photograph courtesy Eric Jacobsen and Fiona Nichols-Fleming)
Bubble Nebula imaged and processed at NSO in the Hubble palette at Space Camp. (Photograph courtesy Eric Jacobsen and Fiona Nichols-Fleming)

Field trips again this year included a private planetarium show at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury and a trip to New Hampshire to Dartmouth College’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and their historic Shattuck Observatory to visit with post doctoral students making breakthroughs in our understanding of black holes. New this year was a chance to meet with Carthage College professor and professional astronomer Doug Arion. Doug invited everyone to join his staff at the AMC Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch, NH. A new program has brought telescopes and young educators to the AMC hiking huts in the White Mountains. Campers learned more about what astronomers work on and how they can start making their own telescopes.

Carthage College professor Doug Arion demonstrates the equipment used to test a hand ground and polished telescope mirror. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)
Carthage College professor Doug Arion demonstrates the equipment used to test a hand ground and polished telescope mirror at the AMC Highland Center Lodge. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)

Camp base of operations was once again the Green Mountain Retreat Center, a local treasure located on a beautiful, quiet hillside with a terrific view. It has a New England summer camp feeling with a big kitchen and dining room. There are separate floors for boys and girls, as well as separate bathrooms and showers. NKAF staff provided nutritious, tasty meals, snacks, and an occasional dessert with assistance from the campers nightly cooking and cleaning up.

Campers enjoy dessert at the Green Mountain Retreat Center. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)
Campers enjoy dessert at the Green Mountain Retreat Center. (Photograph courtesy NKAF)

Financial aid was made possible this year with the generous support of local donors, the St. Johnsbury Rotary and Chroma Technology who believe in investing in Vermont’s students to set them up for tomorrow’s high tech jobs. Financial contributions from the local business community and from individuals to NKAF allow eager young minds such as these campers to engage in real science which will hopefully inspire their future studies and careers. Support NKAF’s work online, and follow them on Facebook.