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Students reach for the stars at Astro camp
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Larry Grimes and Jeff Baldwin, both teachers in the Manteca Unified School District, display the telescopes used during their Summer Astro Camp for seventh- through ninth- grade students. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT / The Bulletin

STARLAB was one of the featured attractions at this Science Technology Engineering Math Summer Camp.
Astro Camp was the fourth and final weeklong session of the Manteca Unified School District.
Instructors Larry Grimes and Jeff Baldwin were thrilled to have access to the large portable and inflatable planetarium from the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
“We were able to accommodate 28 kids and four adults,” said Grimes Thursday of the 10.5-foot high, 16-by-20-foot wide nylon-reinforced dome situated inside the Regional Environmental Studies Center at the MUSD complex.
For the 25 students – they were incoming seventh- through- ninth graders from throughout the district – the session inside STARLAB was a recap of sort from the previous evening.
Summer Astro Camp youngsters and their families actually viewed night skies at this first-ever “Star Party.”
According to Grimes, they honed in on planets such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars along with the Messier objects – remnant of a supernova explosion known as the Crab Nebula – using four different telescopes.
Baldwin brought his large 24-inch aperture Dobsonian telescope named ‘Chester.’
“I was able to see six of Jupiter’s moons,” said Baldwin, who is also the Math Department chairman at Lathrop High.
He and Grimes, who is the Math Department chairman at Sierra High, are part of Team SOFIA, which stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
On Oct. 16, they’ll hop aboard a Boeing 747-SP aircraft modified by NASA to accommodate a 2.5 meter gyro-stabilized telescope similar to that of the Hubble space telescope. This excursion high above Earth’s atmosphere was two years in the making for both MUSD teachers.
Baldwin and Grimes underwrote the cost of all materials for the Summer Astro Camp. Their goal was to teach students the rudiments of astronomy.
As part of the learning experience, students were able to take home one of the telescopes or binoculars to do their own night viewing.
“It was great during this past week to see students becoming enthusiastic about astronomy,” said Baldwin.
Lissa Gilmore, who is Coordinator II at SJCOE’s Office of STEM, had a chance to drop in for the final session.
It was through her office that the Summer Astro Camp was able to bring in STARLAB, which was made possible via a grant from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
The portable digital and analog star lab is available to members of the Space Consortium.