By STEPHANIE BUNKER
Moapa Valley Progress
Gary Parkerson, with his Pedaling Astronomer Project, found his way into Moapa Valley last week. Parkerson immediately began educating people all over the valley about the fascinating sights available far above them.
Parkerson, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been traveling across the country on his pedal bike loaded with a telescope and other astronomy gear. So far he has traveled 4,400 miles with an expected total of 12,000 miles ending by 2017.
Parkerson began his journey from Louisiana and traveled up to Chicago. From Chicago he continued through Missouri; later traversing through New Mexico, Arizona, and even California where he was scheduled to attend a conference in September.
The purpose of the trip is to educate people about astronomy and plant the seeds of interest into children as well as adults, he said.
“For some people this is a once in a lifetime experience to see the sun or moon with the planets,” Parkerson said
During his visit to Moapa Valley, Parkerson was invited to go to Grant M. Bowler Elementary school and let the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders look through his telescope. They were shown the sun through a conventional celestial telescope with filters that made it safe for their eyes to view. Parkerson explained the appearance of spots on the sun, which are simply pockets of gas that are cooler than the surrounding areas creating a darker color.
“Usually he does this for 4th and 5th graders but we wanted to invite the 3rd graders to look at the sun as well because they have been learning about astronomy in the classroom and this is a perfect opportunity to be part of their learning journey,” said Assistant Principal Vanessa Solis said.
“I want to encourage kids and show them that science is accessible and not intimidating by giving them some hands on experience with something practical,” Parkerson said.
Parkerson handed out solar glasses for each student to take home. The solar glasses make it possible for the kids to look directly at the sun and see the glowing ball in the sky. They also have important information about the next solar eclipse which will occur on August 21, 2017. Parkerson always carries 250 pairs solar glasses around with him on his travels.
It was merely by chance that Parkerson came to Moapa Valley at all. Rod Gould, a resident here, was hiking one day near Las Vegas when he saw a man pedaling on an interesting looking bike. When Gould asked Parkerson if he was traveling across the world, Parkerson replied, “No, just the country.”
After conversing with him, Gould proceeded to invite Parkerson to come to Moapa Valley for the night. Parkerson enjoyed his time so much in Moapa Valley that one night turned into a two week stay here.
During that time he traveled to Mesquite and educated people there. He also stopped in at the St. John’s Fall Fiesta last weekend to show people views of the sun. Parkerson has been delighted with Moapa Valley and the people in the area have shown enthusiastic interest in what he has to teach.