Northeast Tarrant

Dragons see stars, more with observatory

A visiting college astronomy professor asked Alex Barnes to point one of the district’s new telescopes at the star Albireo.

The professor then quizzed the Carroll senior, which is hotter, a yellow star or a blue star?

After a few weeks in the high school’s new astronomy program, Barnes has learned how to use the equipment and recently took a test on the same question so he knew “blue” was the answer.

“It’s a completely different experience than being told how things work,” he said about being able to learn beyond the classroom.

Carroll Independent School District leaders cut the ribbon of the Dragon Observatory Thursday night at Jack D. Johnson Elementary School. The district added the observatory and an astronomy course to expand its science options.

The 384-square-feet observatory sits at the back of Johnson Elementary, behind the playground and fields. Experts from the University of North Texas came to help decide the best place to have an observatory within the district’s 11 campuses.

The Hudson Foundation — the same organization that made the Carroll Medical Academy a reality — gave the district a $98,000 grant to build the observatory.

What at first looks like a tool shed changes when the roof slides off the building and two Celestron 14-inch telescopes have clear view of the night sky.

Sam Graff teaches three astronomy classes to about 80 juniors and seniors and the campus already has an astronomy club with roughly 20 members.

Senior Will Bradford said he’s always had a passion for astronomy and when he heard about the class he had to sign up.

“It’s just incredible,” he said. “It’s my favorite subject.”

Students use an iPad app called TheSky HD, which syncs with the telescopes. On the app, students use sky mapping techniques they learned in class, or a search feature, and the telescopes adjust accordingly. Barnes typed in “Mars” and one of the telescopes moved to show the red planet.

The classes have gotten familiar with the equipment and some students came outside of class for hours to view an eclipse. The district plans to have stargazing parties and more events to invite more Dragons beyond the classes and club.

Graff said there are plans to have the students conduct actual research with UNT. The district and university share similar equipment.

“It’s nice they have practical hands-on experience,” Graff said. “The students are trained to do actual observation and research in high school with actual research programs.”

Mackenzie Kormann, a sixth-grader at Eubanks Intermediate, had been wanting to check out the observatory. While she still has a few years until high school she said she cannot wait to take the course.