Tag Archives: Erica Saint Clair

Hunting the geocached solar system on Bainbridge Island

Most of us have experienced a scale model solar system. A new one with a different spin will open up May 1 on Bainbridge Island. To find the Sun and planets in this solar system, you’ll have to conduct a successful geocache hunt.

“Everybody who does it can collect the entire set of planets and custom stamps in a passport book, but the trick is, they have to go to each planet to do it,” said Erica Saint Clair, proprietor of Rosie Research, which creates fun science learning adventures for kids and families. Saint Clair also leads the BP Astro Kids education program of the Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA). It was through the latter that the idea for the geocache scaled solar system model came about.

Geocached solar system

Adventurers can explore a geocached solar system on Bainbridge Island beginning May 1. Find the treasure chest at each planet and get a stamp for your passport. Visit every planet to win cool prizes! Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

About a year ago the BP Astro Kids made solar systems on a string, but it was a challenge to create an exercise that represented both the proper sizes of planets relative to each other, as well as the scale of the distances between them at those sizes. The BPAA children’s librarian suggested just making an island-wide solar system using geocaching. Saint Clair originally laughed at the idea—thinking that’ll be easy!—then rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Now it’s about to go live. The Sun is about five feet in diameter in this solar system.

“It fits really well on the island, and it gives a really good perspective for people about the size of our solar system,” Saint Clair said.

“You can walk downtown Winslow and go through our terrestrial planets, and then Jupiter and Saturn and the other guys are a little further away,” she added. “You definitely need a car for Pluto because it’s the other end of the island.”

Geocache patch

Visit every planet on Bainbridge Island and get this cool patch. Photo: Rosie Research.

The key piece of documentation for the hunt is the solar system passport. The passport includes information about the project and interesting facts about the Sun and each planet. Most importantly, it gives the coordinates of each of these objects. Go to Bainbridge Island, plug the coordinates into a GPS device—the map app on your smart phone will do, but there are also special geocaching apps—and the search is on! At each spot geocachers with a good eye will find a hidden treasure chest with a special stamp for their passport—that’s how you’ll prove you’ve been there. Some local businesses will be handing out the passports, and some are offering prizes like ice cream or pizza for those who collect certain stamps.

“It’s not only a geocache hunt, it’s also a fun afternoon activity with treats,” Saint Clair said.

Geocachers who visit every planet can bring their passport to one of the monthly BP Astro Kids events and receive a colorful completer’s patch as the reward for their dedicated pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Saint Clair said that a goal helps motivate many kids to finish a project like this; her own daughters are the user testers for many of her projects, and it works on them! She’s hoping that the challenge of the hunt will inspire interest in the project.

Challenge of scale modeling

There are a lot of big numbers in astronomy, and Saint Clair said that’s a challenge for this sort of endeavor.

Erica Saint Clair

Erica Saint Clair presents BPAstro Kids programs for the Battle Point Astronomical Association.

“It’s really difficult to scale a model, because either the sizes are so unfathomable or the distances are so unfathomable, and to bring one into focus inherently blurs the other,” she said. She hopes that using informative passport books will help convey more information that might not work at the scale of the model.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association will hold an Astronomy Day celebration at Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. this Saturday, April 29. Saint Clair said kids and families can pick up their passports and take a solar system tour that day in preparation for the solar system geocache hunt going live on Monday.

If you’d like to support the educational efforts of Rosie Research, visit their Patreon Page and become a patron of science.


Podcast of our interview with Erica Saint Clair:

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Juno at Jupiter, lots of nearby events this week, too

Happy Independence Day! After a five-year flight NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrives at Jupiter today, and there are astronomy club meetings and events galore on the calendar for the rest of the week.

Juno at Jupiter

The Juno mission arrives at Jupiter with some science objectives that may explain much about our solar system’s largest planet, and could help shed some light on planet and system formation as well. Check out our previous post and podcast with Solar System Ambassador Ron Hobbs for a preview of the mission.

Club events

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 5 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma. The program topic will be the final of three parts on the synthesis of elements. A show and tell is planned as well, as club members have been busy with astrophotography.

The Tacoma club also will hold a star party July 7-10 on the property of a club member near Goldendale. It’s for members and guests only, but what a perfect time to join!

Spokane Astronomical SocietyThe Spokane Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 8 at the Riverview Retirement Community, 2117 East North Crescent in Spokane. Guest speaker Michelle Boss, meteorologist with KREM TV, will give a presentation about astronomical weather patterns.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association will offer three events on Saturday, July 9 at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park BPAA logoon Bainbridge Island. Their BPAstro Kids programs at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. will share information about the scale and size of our solar system, and participants will get to make their own solar systems to hang up at home! (Check our post and podcast with Dr. Erica Saint Clair, who heads up BPAstro Kids.) Following at 8:30 p.m. astronomer Steve Ruhl, in a belated tribute to David Bowie, will give a presentation about “space oddities” in our Solar System. Observing will follow if weather permits. Events are free for BPAA members, small donation suggested for non-members.

Stargazing at a volcano

Mt. St. HelensThe Mount St. Helens Sky and Star Party will be held Saturday, July 9 at the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater. The event is part of the 2016 Summer on the Mountain Series of public events at Mount St. Helens and is co-hosted by the Mount St. Helens Institute, Rose City Astronomers, the Friends of Galileo Astronomy Club, and the United States Forest Service/Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Festivities get under way at 1 p.m. with solar viewing, crafts, and other activities. There will be guest speakers, a buffet dinner, and observing after dark if the weather holds.

Open house at TJO

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryAnother of the twice-monthly open houses is coming up at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 6 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Student talks will be given by Lev Marcus about the colonization of space, and Isaak Nanneman about eccentric scientists. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will give tours of the observatory and, if weather is clear, offer a look through its vintage telescope.

Up in the sky

The great summer of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn continues with all three planets marvelously placed for viewing. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.

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Edible optics and fun science for BPAstro Kids

Astronomy club members are sometimes heard lamenting the graying of the hobby; young kids today are too interested in their electronic gizmos to look up at the night sky. Erica Saint Clair and the Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) have embarked on a new effort to hook the kids while they’re young. The association has recently started BPAstro Kids, a program for younger children that precedes its monthly planetarium shows in the John Rudolph Planetarium at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island.

Erica Saint Clair

Erica Saint Clair presents BPAstro Kids programs for the Battle Point Astronomical Association.

Though education and the planetarium have been part of the BPAA’s mission since its formation in 1993, the program for kids came about recently as something of an accident. Saint Clair took her youngest daughter to story time at the local library, and met another mom there whose husband makes regular presentations at the association’s events. She was recruited to do a talk about Mars rovers.

“I have no background in astronomy—zero,” Saint Clair said. “I have a Ph.D. in physics, which apparently qualified me.”

She did the talk, which took a lot of time to prepare and bored her five-year-old terribly. Saint Clair also has a two-year-old, and decided that she would prefer to make presentations for younger children.

“My passion is for teaching kids science, and making it fun, and making them want to do it and beg me to do it,” Saint Clair said. “It helps to have a five-year-old who is really into and really excited about everything we do in science.”

BPAstro-kidsThus BPAstro Kids was born, presented by “Dr. Erica,” who figured if she was already creating science activities for her own daughters, she might as well share with others. The sessions feature short talks followed by hands-on activities. The kids have built edible optics, Valentine’s “love bots,” and marble particle accelerators. This Saturday they’ll make real, working telescopes they can take home. They started with one session before the monthly planetarium show, but so many people brought their kids they’re doing two now.

“I feel like we’re snowballing, and that’s fantastic,” Saint Clair said. She’s working on turning her presentations into a science-education business. She’s founded Rosie Research, with the aim of engaging kids in new types of science labs. They may eventually make tools such as telescope-making kits available for purchase. In the meantime Saint Clair goes about the business of inspiring youngsters.

“My goal is to get kids interested in all types of science, and I think space science is kind of the go-to for kids,” she said. “Every kid wants to go to the Moon, every kid wants to see what Mars is going to be like.”

Saint Clair is encoraged by the interest in BPAstro Kids and said she feels we are beginning to value “smart” again.

“I think we are as a culture shifting towards ‘science is cool and it’s sexy and it’s fun,’” she said.

Kids can build telescopes at BPAstro Kids at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. this Saturday, April 9 at the Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. Suggested donation is $5 to help cover costs. A presentation about space telescopes will follow at 7:30. BPAstro Kids has received financial support from BPAA, the Awesome Foundation, and Rotary International of Bainbridge Island.

More info:

Podcast of our interview with Erica Saint Clair: 

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