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Exploring the wonders of Bootham observatory

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Following up on their Space Explorers Discovery topic, Year 5 were thrilled to be invited to Bootham School’s observatory by Mike Shaw - Biology, Astronomy and Chemistry teacher at Bootham School and, for good measure, newly-elected fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society!

Anticipation was high at what they might see in the night sky – Satellites? Constellations? Asteroids? Shooting stars? Gallaxies? Sadly, a thick blanket of cloud looked as though it might put paid to such hopes.

Nevertheless, the children knew they were in for a treat of an evening.

Having dined royally in Bootham’s refectory, it was over to Mr Shaw’s science lab where they excitedly spotted models of Apollo II and of a lander. A quick whiz round their knowledge of the night sky and the planets, followed by an introduction to astronautical units, and the children were set the task of creating their own scaled models of the solar system which they took to with alacrity.

Next up, an explanation of how Apollo II was constructed and a graphic illustration of just how much of the rocket was discarded on the way to the Moon and on re-entry through the atmosphere to Earth. Just the right amount of information to enable the children to construct their own rockets on the flight simulators.

High on their success at launching their rockets into space, it was with great excitement that they entered the Observatory, first opened in 1906, and climbed the rickety wooden stairs to the lower decks. Here, they were introduced to all sorts of gadgets and gizmos on the lower and heard how in times past students at Bootham would calculate the correct time from the position of the stars and then hotfoot it to the Minster to ensure that the clock kept time. Up some more steps into the cold dark room of the upper deck, they caught sight of the revolving telescope which Mr Shaw put through its paces. Sadly, the cloud had persisted so there was to be no star-gazing tonight, but a close second-best was being allowed to crank the handle which enabled the roof of the upper deck to open to reveal the night sky!

It had been an awesome evening. For the children, the chatter all the way back to school was of the wonders they had seen and of the privilege of having had their own tour of Bootham’s observatory.


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