MIDDLEBURY — Westover School science teacher Chris Childs offered a winter term astronomy elective entitled A Tour of the Solar System. 

The elective explored the moon and certain celestial bodies which orbit the sun. 

Mr. Childs offered students viewings of the night sky using an 11-inch Celestron telescope that he set up in the top of Westover’s Acheson Astronomy Tower.

Mr. Childs also set up scale models of the solar system on the floor of the gymnasium in Westover’s Fuller Athletic Center.

In one scale model, he showed a marble that represented the sun. A few feet away, there were the inner solar system planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, which were pencil marks on the floor. Earth and its moon were a couple millimeters apart.

Then, stretching across the gym, there were slightly larger marks on the floor that represented the outer gas giants of the solar system, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. 

“This allowed us to see a more realistic representation of the solar system,” said Lili Gittines, a senior from Southbury. “I didn’t realize just how far everything is from the other planets. And every planet is so different in makeup and atmosphere; it’s fascinating,” she said.

The course included examining and comparing the make-up of the smaller inner planets with their distant gas-giant neighbors and their mysterious rings and moons.

Mr. Childs said that most of the students came to class with some fundamental awareness of astronomy in general, often drawn from news reports that have appeared in the media. 

“They do tend to get excited about discussions that have to do with the possibility of extraterrestrial life,” said Mr. Childs. “For them, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘where’ will extraterrestrial life be found,” he said.

“I find it really cool how we talk about the world began and how the world is likely to end. I like that it touches on a bunch of other subjects, including religion,” said Juliane Purves, a senior from Charleston, S.C. 

Mr. Childs noted that Ms. Purves asked a lot of questions in the course that prompted some lively discussions on a range of related topics.

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