POLAND — “Whoa, there it goes!” Poland Regional High School student Ethan Joncas said, a hint of wonder in his voice as he stared into a telescope pointed toward space.

Words — or thoughts to that effect — rose from each student in the tight group clustered about the eye pointed to the sky.

Just seconds before, Charlie Yancey, the astronomy teacher at Poland Regional High School, had spotted the glint of a satellite against the growing dark.

“It’s headed straight for the moon!” he said.

In response, Joncas had bent forward and pressed his eye to the telescope’s viewing lens just in time to catch the speck of light as it crossed the moon’s cratered face.

“What luck,” Yancey said. “That’s something you’ll not see in a thousand nights.”


The small group of Yancey’s students was out on the edge of the field hockey field, not far from the field equipment house that shielded the Celestron CPC-8 and its 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain scope from light coming from the 5-Corners McDonald’s.

“This is the first time I ever looked through a telescope,” said Alysha Hollingshead, a junior. “It was a wonderful experience looking at the moon, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Hercules cluster — light from the Hercules cluster that is 13 billion years old!”

The moon, a little shy of reaching half-moon status, was particularly brilliant on the clear, you-should-be-wearing-wool-socks-cold evening.

“The sunlight, hitting it at an angle like that, sharpens the shadows of the mountains and craters,” Yancey said.

The Andromeda Galaxy was a dud in comparison.

“It’s the closest galaxy to ours (at 2.5 million light-years away), on a course to collide with the Milky Way in a few million years,” Yancey said.


“Just a smudge really, a bit of a disappointment,” said Sam Stone, a sophomore.

Stone, who also had never looked at the night sky through a telescope, said he was “super-excited when I heard Mr. Yancey got a grant for one.”

On that night, he was quite taken by the Hercules cluster.

“Looking back at light from 13 billion years ago, just thinking about that absolutely blows my mind,” Stone said. “Being 15 years old makes me seem so insignificant compared to everything out there. Although they are just small blurs in the telescope, it was still super-cool to see both of them.”

“Hubble has spoiled us,” Yancey said, “Hubble with its colorized photographs of incredible clarity.” 

The high school’s telescope, acquired through a $2,550 grant from the Perloff Family Foundation, can be controlled through a small keypad with GPS capabilities, which allows the viewer to punch in a few appropriate commands.


“Voila,” Yancey said. “The scope finds the object for you.”

A year ago, Yancey wrote up some specs for a telescope for his class and tried to secure a grant to pay for it. When he didn’t get the grant he sought, he turned to Cathy and Dave Griffiths who, a few years ago, set up a nonprofit group called the Tri-Town Education Fund to support classroom projects at RSU 16 schools.

“They rewrote the grant and in August we got this telescope,” Yancey said. “Sandy and David Perloff both came to my classroom to discuss and talk with my students three weeks ago. Wonderful people.”

Yancey has about 20 students taking his astronomy course this semester, all of whom are required to attend at least one Astronomy Night. They have three more chances to do so, on Dec. 1, Dec. 15 and Jan. 12 from 5 to 7 p.m., out by the end of the field hockey field. Members of the public are invited and there will be other viewing nights during the (warmer) spring semester.

“It was an awesome experience and I plan to go to more Astronomy Nights in the future,” Hollingshead said. “Mr. Yancey definitely makes things very interesting and enjoyable to learn about.”

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