AE120:Observing sessions

Information About Observing Sessions

An important part of the AE120 course is evening observing sessions at Muny Sokol Park.


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NOTE! we have moved back to Muny Sokol Park!

Check here after 4PM on the day of the session to see if we have to cancel because of weather or if the session has been CONFIRMED.

If this is your first session, bring pages 29-32 and 81-84 from your workbook.

If this is your second session, bring pages 85-87 from your workbook.


Observing sessions are part of the curriculum in AE120: Aerospace Science for Educators. Sessions usually begin about 30 minutes after sunset at Muny Sokol Park. (Directions to get there are below.) During these sessions, we use telescopes, binoculars, and our eyes to do some observing and try to connect what we see with what we do in the classroom. (See either the AE120 homepage or the Project Nova homepage for a description of the course curriculum.) We learn a few constellations, take a look at the visible planets, and take a peek at some deep sky objects, such as the spiral galaxy in Andromeda.


Observing sessions are held at Muny Sokol park. To get there, take MacFarland drive (HWY 82) from Tuscaloosa and head toward Northport. Continue until you get to the intersection of MacFarland and Watermelon road (you will see a Del Champs and a Winn Dixie here). Turn right onto Watermelon road. You will continue north on this road for about 2 to 3 miles, past the softball fields and past the rodeo arena. Look for a small green sign that says "Model Air Field." Turn right here and take that gravel road to the parking lot.

Please, if you arrive late, remember to use only parking lights when pulling into the parking lot, since bright headlights ruin night vision.

We have to venture all the way out to Muny Sokol park in order to find a reasonably dark sky. We regret the inconvenience to our students, but most would agree that the trip is worth it.


We have two good telescopes, a Meade 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain (model LX10) mounted on an equatorial wedge and an adjustable height tripod, and a Meade 8" Dobsonian reflector. We have a variety of eyepieces, from a 6.4mm SuperPlossl to a 40mm SuperPlossl. We also have a pair of binoculars (which is an excellent piece of observing equipment), and have access to a 4.5" Edmund Scientific rich field reflector and another 6" relector on an equatorial mount.

For more imformation on refractors, reflectors, and Schmidth-Cassegrains, click here.


Plan on spending at least $250 for a telescope. Anything less expensive is usually too small or flimsy to be useful. If you cannot afford this, don't fret! A set of binoculars can provide very beautiful vistas of the night sky! Purchase a 50x10 pair (or 60x10 or larger, but these are more expensive), and you won't be dissapointed. They do not have to be made specifically for astronomy, either, although some of the more expensive ones are. You cannot get detailed views of the planets with binoculars, but the Milky Way is very impressive, and the Andromeda galaxy and several other Messier objects begin to take form.

For some good advice on telescopes, as well as a listing of telescope prices, contact Astronomics in Oklahoma.

Telescope vendors abound, including the above mentioned Astronomics, Orion Telescopes in California, and Shutan Camera and Video in Chicago.


For those of you who could not participate in at least two astronomy sessions, you can do the following alternative assignments. The pages that are listed are found in your workbook, A Model of Nearby Space.

If you missed one session, do pp. 33-4 GROUP A.

If you missed two sessions, do pp. 33-4 GROUPS A and B.

The main point of these exercises is to get you outside in the evening observing the real motions of the planets, moon, and stars, rather than using only computer simulation. There is no substitute for being there.

Want information on a wide array of astronomy topics? Instead of searching the entire web, just pay the folks at Sky Publishing a visit.

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