Five-year-old Alaina Daniels raced around the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken Saturday – checking out the cool toys in the science store, space rocks and telescopes that made the moon come alive.


The Astronomy Club of Augusta hosted “Observe the Moon Night,” an international event. Members showed a video of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, while the Ruth Patrick Center staff opened its observatory. They also presented two other videos in the planetarium, including “Larry the Cat” and his own cartoon mission in space.


Connie Daniels of Aiken brought Alaina to the Ruth Patrick Center.


“I wanted to spend some quality time with my granddaughter, and this is very exciting for her,” Daniels said. “She says now that she wants to be an astronaut. Maybe this will fuel that fire. It just stimulates kids’ minds and gets them interested in new things.”


The astronomy club has offered programs at Ruth Patrick for several years, said Dr. Gary Senn, the center director.


“We like to provide these kinds of evenings to encourage an interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” he said. “Starting them at a young age is the way. The first-quarter moon tonight is the best for observing. You can’t see as much detail with the full moon. Seeing the shadows brings a more three-dimensional look.”


Stan Howard, a longtime member of the astronomy club, asked several basic astronomy questions to the young people and awarded prizes. Michael Axel, who has just moved to Martinez with his parents from upstate New York, knew all the answers, but gave way to let other students have a try.


“There were some observatories two hours south of us,” Axel said. “I would go each summer for science camp and look at the three telescopes. It’s all pretty interesting, and I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to watch Curiosity land on Mars.”


He and his dad Mike are delighted to find an observatory in the area. They plan to return to the Ruth Patrick Center on Oct. 13 for Science Education Enrichment Day.


Howard can relate to Michael’s enthusiasm, having gotten the bug in the 1960s when a friend called him at 4 a.m. to watch a meteor shower.


“I enjoy star-viewing and basic astronomy,” Howard said. “It’s fun when people see Saturn for the first time, and it blows their socks off. It’s the same thing with Jupiter. It’s also special to have the international observe the moon night. People all over the world are looking tonight, more than at any other time. I feel a real camaraderie with that.”


Rob Novit is the senior writer and education reporter for the Aiken Standard.