Lamar Middle School Students Explore the Heavens and Earth

MESO Van at Lamar Middle School


Passers-by noticed a unique white van at the Lamar Middle School parking lot two weeks ago. A MESO (Mobile Earth Space Observation) Vehicle, equipped with several telescopes and other scientific equipment, has been offering several science projects and studies for the students during their visit.

Headquartered at the National Space Science and Technology Institute in Colorado Springs, various grants allow the traveling science center to visit any number of schools in the region, including an observation of an eclipse in Stratton, Nebraska two years ago. More down to earth subjects such as the Water Filtering/Purification Challenge and telescopic studies of the sun were conducted with students at Lamar Middle School, according to science teacher, Terri Lira.

Hand-Drawn Contour Maps in the Sandbox

Other areas covered by the visiting scientists included pH tests and turbidity of nearby river water and several sandboxes developed to test for erosion and water purity. One piece of equipment, the Augmented Reality Sandbox, really hooked a lot of students with its computer generated features similar to Pokeman Go where pictures could be superimposed on a viewing device, in this case a thigh-high box of sand measuring about three by four feet wide.

It’s more complex to explain than to use, as an overhead projector measures the height of the simulated terrain to create a real-time contour map with color projections on the sand. Use your hands to mold a mountain and the projector will adjust the colors to reflect the difference in height, to include a snow-capped peak that dominates an open plain.  Dig out a large scoop of sand and the depression you’ve made becomes a blue lake.  Make another one and trace a ditch between the two lakes and you’ve created a stream.  You can also make it rain on your land by wiggling your fingers under the projector and watch the water begin to fill the low-lying areas.  The instructor explained that the device can also be used to study erosion, how forest fires travel over ground or students can create a star system to view a gravity well around a black hole.

Assembling Monitoring Devices to Balloon

One intricate classroom study involved several students who assembled telemetry monitoring devices which attached to a helium balloon. MESO Instructor Bryan Castanza held a workshop with some of the Middle School students last month for about seven hours and was back to help with last minute details on the balloon launch on Friday, October 26th.  “These students have had some background on these studies, but most of this is totally new to them,” he explained, as students were making last minute adjustments to their four by five inch boxes which will record atmospheric conditions such as air pressure, wind speed and direction, temperature and altitude changes as the balloon ascent would bring them to 100,000 feet before it burst and the boxes would return earth on an attached parachute.

Time to Gas ‘er Up

A handful of students were present at the school sports field at 8am on Saturday, October 27th, filling the balloon from a helium tank and attaching the boxes. A last minute check on the lift of the helium versus the weight of the boxes determined how much helium would be needed in the balloon.  One student explained, “The balloon is expected to climb about 1,000 feet every minute before it bursts, so it will take almost 90 minutes before that happens and the winds are blowing east this morning.”

Build Your Own 2-Liter Bottle Rockets for Launching

With the lift-off complete, the students went back to their monitoring computers to record the information being relayed from the balloon. Castanza explained, “Now I’ve got to take a trip over to Kansas somewhere, to bring back all the packages.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of LamarEducationEntertainmentEventsFeaturedSchoolYouth


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