AUTRYVILLE — Jeremiah Baggett awed as the stars of the night sky surrounded him.
Although it was actually daytime, the fifth-grader at Clement Elementary School and his classmates enjoyed sitting inside a dome and traveling though space. The simulation was part of the “Into the Dome, Beyond the Earth” program from the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, a unit of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Baggett enjoyed seeing the sun set and rise inside the dome too.
“I learned what the sun was made of and how it rotates on its axis,” Baggett said Wednesday about the glowing sphere of hot gas.
Nick Eakes, an astronomy educator at the center, led the sessions and visited Clement for three days. The sessions involved learning about different aspects of the earth and interactions with the solar system. Eakes spoke about the moon, eclipses and sun. Many students questioned why it was brighter than other stars in the solar system.
“If we were to get inside a spaceship and go towards another star, it’ll get bigger and bigger,” he said.
Students were also fascinated to learn that “shooting stars” are not actually stars, but just pieces of rock or dust moving extremely fast. They’re called meteors by astronomers.
The sessions coincided with what students are learning in the classroom. The “Magic Tree House Space Mission” portion made kindergarten through second-grade students think about how scientists form questions and learn about space. Older third- through fifth-grade students were engaged in “Earth, Moon & Sun,” a lesson about how everything works together.
“All of this stuff may seem sort of weird if you look at it,” Eakes said about space. “But it has a cool scientific basis.”
The students from Kristy Hall’s fifth-grade class were just some of the many students who enjoyed the science lessons.
“I enjoyed seeing the stars and the constellations,” fifth-grader Alyssa Hairr said.
Following the program, Eakes answered questions from curious students. He also enjoyed bringing the program to Sampson County and other schools throughout North Carolina. Visits are made to all counties in the state.
“It’s a neat opportunity for them to see something they haven’t seen before,” Eakes said.
Christy Bullard, the school’s library specialist, said the visit was an award through the Accelerated Reader (AR) Program, which provides an incentive for students to foster an appreciation and love for reading. The astronomy program was a celebration after completing a nine-week program.
“This year we decided to provide different ways to celebrate with an educational format that builds on each grade level curriculum,” Bullard said.
Funding for “Into the Dome, Beyond the Earth” was provided by Simple Gifts Foundation, which provides grants for learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Bullard said the school plans to have the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science for the second nine-week portion of the AR program.
“I love the opportunity to provide children with experiences that are fun, exciting and most importantly engaging,” Bullard said. “The experience that students have had with the mobile planetarium has done just that and more. It has sparked an interest in students to learn more about specific science topics.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.