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You want cheaper equipment? Another perspective.

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#1 Astrojensen

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 03:25 PM

In the recent thread about the troubles at Meade, the aging astro community and a bleak future with fewer manufacturers and smaller variety has been mentioned again and again.

I was wondering if this is purely a US-centric phenomenon, as it describes a situation I can't recognize over here in Europe. I've been a member of the biggest Danish astro forum for no more than a few years and only attended star parties since 2007, but during that time, I've seen quite a few young observers at the parties and also a number has joined the forum. Furthermore, European astronomy dealers seem to do better than ever, if I am to believe what I see on their webshops and at ATT.

Today I was contacted by a young journalist lady from a local TV station, who wanted me to participate in a series of nature programs they're running. There's not so much going on in nature by now, in the middle of winter, so she thought that maybe they could run an episode or two about the stars. During our talk, she mentioned a bird-watching trip to Sweden they had organized, just for kids. Apparently there had been LOTS of kids on that trip, with binoculars and spottingscopes. They had also observed the Moon with the spottingscopes and had had a blast out of it. She thought that astronomy definitely was a "sleeper interest" in many kids. It had that mystery aura that appeals to kids. Also, a lot of kids watched their nature program, she told me. And adults too, of course.

So, apparently, or so I thought, it's not the kids that lack an interest in astronomy or that they perceive astronomy as boring and dusty, if it can be presented in a interesting and thought-provoking and aestetic way, but us that fail to let them know that it is possible to observe the universe with their own eyes and how to do it.

I think we should get astronomy into prime time TV and schools. Then the problems with recruitment to our hobby will solve themselves and we can soon wade in cheap equipment! :grin:

No, seriously, I don't think kids see astronomy as boring (I never did. I read astronomy textbooks since I was eight or something. I was an armchair astronomer before I got my first binoculars at age twelve...!), but rather that MANY ADULTS DO and thus think that kids find it boring, too.

A kids show about science and astronomy could, I assume, if presented the right way, have a profound impact.

Who knows, perhaps it could save Meade... :grin:


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#2 starrancher

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 03:41 PM

Sadly in this country , the average youth is probably more absorbed by looking over his shoulder and trying to stay alive .
The school system here can't even think about adding a program as with all US bureaucracy it has over spent , is broke and can only cut cut cut .
As far as our televised media goes , shows like "Keeping up with the Kardashians" or "Love and Hip Hop Antlanta" is more along the lines of what we see . It's all part of being dummied down . A sad state of affairs . I believe hiring in of minds from China and India was referenced in the Meade thread .
Huh , I wonder why ?

#3 Mxplx2

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:22 PM

When I was a kid we had a TV show called Mr. Wizard on Saturdays. He did all kinds of interesting scientific things and it was must see TV for me every Saturday. Today, Saturdays are all cartoons and sugary cereal commercials. First they rot their minds and then they rot their teeth.

#4 Footbag

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:43 PM

A few comments...

First, I come across a lot of people who watch Discovery Channel, Science Channel, etc for the astronomy programs. These aren't astronomers, they don't have telescopes, but they are just as fascinated with astronomy as I am. There is no lack of interest. I do wonder why Celestron or Meade aren't advertising on these shows. I think the market is ripe to find a new wave of interested customers, but they cannot find them in the pool of old customers. They need to create the interest, not just cater to it. Unfortunately, they're not gaining many customers with S&T.

As far as schools, every science classroom in the country should have a telescope. I never looked through a telescope until I bought one. There were numerous times I though about buying one, but never got around to it earlier in my life. I do intend to ensure that my son's school has access to a telescope even if I have to buy it for them.

I will relate a few more things to demonstrate. I was doing some astrophotography at my lakehouse. A lot of people tend to walk by, and I'm usually nose deep in my laptop. I would say that 90% of the people ask about my telescope. They want to see my pictures. They want to bring their other back over to see them. This is not one in ten, this is nine out of ten.

As well, our club does outreach at our city's First Friday celebration. It is typically the bar aged crowd, but we've made some inroads with the younger kids. Everyone wants to look through the telescope. It doesn't matter what their background is, they are interested.

So I refuse to believe that there is some societal rejection of astronomy, on the contrary, I believe that it may just be the hobby's inability or unwillingness to target new groups.

#5 Footbag

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:46 PM

When I was a kid we had a TV show called Mr. Wizard on Saturdays. He did all kinds of interesting scientific things and it was must see TV for me every Saturday. Today, Saturdays are all cartoons and sugary cereal commercials. First they rot their minds and then they rot their teeth.


I forgot about Mr. Wizard. That was an excellent show.

I thought this was a great thread topic. Let's try not to get it locked.

#6 Astrojensen

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 05:04 PM

Thank you Adam, for your kind comments and interesting replies.

I am afraid that I haven't been the most outspoken and active outreach astronomer myself, but I find it a little hard to do it alone with a crowd. A few people is fine, but I haven't found the guts to set up my scope in town and let everyone who passes by have a look. It would be easier if I knew a few other astronomers who also wanted to do this, but I don't. At least none here on the island where I live. I hope I can make up for it with the TV program. Let's see.

I also find it difficult to persuade the weather to be even a little bit cooperative. It's extremely hard to plan anything around here.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#7 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 06:58 PM

I was wondering if this is purely a US-centric phenomenon, as it describes a situation I can't recognize over here in Europe. I've been a member of the biggest Danish astro forum for no more than a few years and only attended star parties since 2007, but during that time, I've seen quite a few young observers at the parties and also a number has joined the forum.



I suspect it's more of a perception than a reality... It all depends on who you hang out with...

Jon

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#8 GeneT

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 07:26 PM

Sadly in this country , the average youth is probably more absorbed by looking over his shoulder and trying to stay alive .
The school system here can't even think about adding a program as with all US bureaucracy it has over spent , is broke and can only cut cut cut .
As far as our televised media goes , shows like "Keeping up with the Kardashians" or "Love and Hip Hop Antlanta" is more along the lines of what we see . It's all part of being dummied down . A sad state of affairs . I believe hiring in of minds from China and India was referenced in the Meade thread .
Huh , I wonder why ?


Well said!

#9 core

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 03:18 AM

Here's another picture to add to that beacon of hope - for the past couple of years at Okie-Tex star party, the city of Norman's (same city where astronomics is located) High School's astronomy program brings up to about 30 students (equally split male/female from what I gather) to the star party - in this case it takes dedicated teacher(s) in the school system to not only setup the astronomy course, but conduct hands-on observation sessions for the students throughout the semester - they have weekday 1hr night observation sessions locally, monthly outings to the local OKC club's dark-sky site, and this yearly trip to okie-tex.

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#10 JayinUT

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 07:34 AM

I am not sure that 30 students out of several high schools is hopeful. If these are typical high schools of 1000 to 2000 students. For five years I ran an astronomy program for grades 6-12. I had what I considered good turnouts of about 30 students who came and learned about the science of Astronomy via inquiry based lessons and hand on experiments. We also taught the kids how to observe using 8 to 10 inch dobs. I turned the program over to another teacher.

So do I think the future is hopeful? I don't think the hobby will die, but it is going to change. The days of pure visual observing are slowly fading as technology brings in new aspects of doing the hobby. If prices can be lowered the hobby will continue to move to imaging as light pollution continues to grow with the population. That means higher costs to get to dark sites or on outlays of equipment. That will mean income is needed and most adults starting out in life do not have the extra income. In the end it's just a guess and time will tell.

#11 BlueGrass

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 08:54 AM

One change I constantly see in our society is an increasing demand for everything to be faster and this goes to the statements about long term astronomy interests requiring patience. It does seem that everyone wants instant gratification and if they don't get it, they complain and move on. How many of us have heard the radio commercials where the conditions and terms for a particular ad are fast forwarded at the end? Drives me crazy. The attention span for many, sadly, is becoming shorter and shorter...

#12 astro_baby

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 08:55 AM

oo void - thats a simply charming picture. Really lovely and its made my day.

We have had a sudden upseurge in the UK. Of late the BBC seems to be spending more air time on some very good documentaries which are very heavily science and engineering based. There was one recently called 'Supersize World' which looks at massive engineering projects - not old stuff like the Hoover Dam but things being built RIGHT NOW ! It wasnt perhaps the most intellectual program on building but it was fascinating and I suspect keyed to younger audiences showing them just how exciting engineering can be.

We have also recently had some superb Nature and History programs and of course Stargazing Live which promotes the ever present Brian Cox as a beacon for younger people. Rock Star Physicist who is very entertaining. Its easy to be cynical about him but he is a great ambassador to kids. He loks young and he presents well in simple terms that laymen can understand and he does it all with such enthusiasm. After each of these Stargazing Live episodes (they do two a year) dealer sales go mental. Yes a lot fo these new starters will drop out but a lot will stay the course.

Personally I think each and everyone of us is responsible for getting people interested and heres the sad thing....about 3 years ago I had an offer from a youth club organiser who was seeking astronomers who would tour youth clubs in the area and give perhaps a short talk and a viewing. I was offered the chance but felt solo it was too much - each even would have maybe 60-100 kids present. I asked for help from the local astro community and got.....absolute zero...nada interest. As a result I had to drop out of the idea.

I do go to as many piblic outreach events as I can and havce done a few 'first night' events for people new to astronomy and (a small shout out here to a local dealer - Astronomia - in Dorking, Surrey) who do good work by offering events in the company of experienced people to drum up interest.

The problem is very few people want to be involved in creating the interest in youngsters.

Something else - youngsters need to be exposed to this, it doesnt mean they will rush out and buy a Takahashi the day after - you need to sow the seeds. Implantation for Later Action. They may go years with no interest and then remember hmmmmmm maybe that would be fun.

My Dad knew the sky well and when small he used to show me stars, constellations etc. As a rebelssios teen I turned my back on it but eventually it became my hobby. Show a child the path and when they are old they will not deviate from it was true for me.

Bottom line is we ALL have to try harder to foster enthusiasm. This year I am planning on taking a scope to work (if the sky ever clears) and letting people have a look on their way out of the office. I'd love to have a solar scope so I could show them that as well during their lunch hour.

I spent time last week with someone who was bought a cheap Celestron 70mm frac for Chrismas pointing stuff out for them, handing them a pile of old stuff I dont need or use anymore to help them get started. Thats what we all need to be doing.

#13 Footbag

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 10:04 AM

I completely agree with Jon above that club membership itself is not a good metric for general interest in astronomy. When I read 30 high school kids out of a thousand, I though that was pretty good. Getting them to participate in anything besides sports is difficult. With the advent of the internet, all specialty club memberships have suffered and had been replaced with forums like this.

I also think that it's easy to point at some trash TV and then blame it for the decline of intellectualism. Then again, does the sitcom The Big Bang Theory restore any of that decline? It gets better ratings then the Kardashians, right? Do you think the Lunar Ranging experiment generated any interest? How about the Nexstar in the background? Geekyness is having it's day in the sun. Shouldn't that translate to increased interest or sales?

Truth is, each generation has pointed towards some cultural phenomenon which they were certain would lead to it's demise. Consequently each generation has made a clear contribution to the prior. Sometimes it only takes one or two people.

So, I think there is a problem with how you judge whether astronomy is in decline. You can look at equipment sales, are we really selling fewer telescopes then ever before or has production just not kept up with population? If anyone knows, please chime in. It is possible that most of the stress on manufacturers is coming from lower margins, cheap labor and increased competition, like in every other industry. Or possibly, it's the ability for some to do virtual astronomy on a computer in Google Sky or on the Hubble site.

One other thing has happened in the hobby. Goto telescopes are designed for those with little experience. But many people don't know the technology exists. They remember, as do I, the telescope their father brought out. They see the Moon, maybe a planet and then they sent it to the attic. Goto's can help to find more interesting targets and hep to maintain interest. These telescopes can be had for well under $500. That's a reasonable enough price that people will buy them on a whim.

#14 dan_h

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 10:08 AM

Personally I think each and everyone of us is responsible for getting people interested


Not everyone shares that sentiment. If someone is interested, I will gladly share what I can. But it is not up to me to instill an interest in someone who would much rather be doing something else.

I did a few nights with students when our youngster was in high school but the teacher made it compulsory for her classes and those who weren't interested at all were very disruptive for the whole night. Not fun. With the current turmoil over teachers contracts, school boards have made any activity that requires school resources very difficult to organize.

I have been socially active in my community for the last thirty years, everything from coaching kids sports, fund raising for elite team athletes, and more than a few nights at the soup kitchen. There is always something to do if one looks around. However, I have never had the urge to set up my scope at the end of the driveway and lure passers-by to look through it.

Outreach is not for everyone. Some folks have really hectic lives and time at the eyepiece is precious. Others simply prefer solitude, quiet, and time to reflect for themselves. I don't know of any other hobby that demands outreach as a condition of participation. Why does astronomy but not woodworking, gardening, butterfly collecting, fishing or any other liesure time activity?

dan

#15 csa/montana

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 10:35 AM

Personally I think each and everyone of us is responsible for getting people interested


Not everyone shares that sentiment. If someone is interested, I will gladly share what I can. But it is not up to me to instill an interest in someone who would much rather be doing something else.

I did a few nights with students when our youngster was in high school but the teacher made it compulsory for her classes and those who weren't interested at all were very disruptive for the whole night. Not fun. With the current turmoil over teachers contracts, school boards have made any activity that requires school resources very difficult to organize.

I have been socially active in my community for the last thirty years, everything from coaching kids sports, fund raising for elite team athletes, and more than a few nights at the soup kitchen. There is always something to do if one looks around. However, I have never had the urge to set up my scope at the end of the driveway and lure passers-by to look through it.

Outreach is not for everyone. Some folks have really hectic lives and time at the eyepiece is precious. Others simply prefer solitude, quiet, and time to reflect for themselves. I don't know of any other hobby that demands outreach as a condition of participation. Why does astronomy but not woodworking, gardening, butterfly collecting, fishing or any other liesure time activity?

dan


I have to agree, in my case. I'm very exhuberant about astronomy, so people know I'm interested. However, if they show no interest in spending some time looking thru my scope(s); then I will not push my hobby onto them. I also live alone in a secluded area, so am not willing to have people that I do not know, come to my place; so I don't "advertise" astronomy when I'm in town. The club here that I used to belong to, was comprised of men that used the "meetings", to discuss everything BUT astronomy. After driving approx. 60 miles roundtrip for meetings, I finally quit the club.

I absolutely enjoy it when someone does visit (several CN'rs have), as observing then is completely different from observing alone; but I also enjoy the solitude of just taking it all in, by myself.

#16 BlueGrass

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 11:11 AM

"I absolutely enjoy it when someone does visit (several CN'rs have), as observing then is completely different from observing alone; but I also enjoy the solitude of just taking it all in, by myself."

and that is one thing about this hobby that I've read here on a continuing basis. The solitary aspect is what draws many of us, the chance to explore the universe and be out under the stars, alone with our thoughts. While I've attended a number of star parties and smaller impromptu get togethers, my most memorable and enjoyable times have been when I've been alone up in the mountains or out in the desert. Many if not most people would find this unnerving or frightening but I relish these times ... the chance to disconnect from the endless noise, mindless chatter, and stress of the job. I've told many folks, that when I retire again they'll be hard pressed to find me... 'Sorry, he's gone ... somewhere in Nevada I think ...' :grin:

#17 csrlice12

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 11:51 AM

"Something else - youngsters need to be exposed to this, it doesnt mean they will rush out and buy a Takahashi the day after - you need to sow the seeds. Implantation for Later Action. They may go years with no interest and then remember hmmmmmm maybe that would be fun."

Fits me. I had a scope as a kid, now facing retirement in a couple of years and was looking to pick back up a hobby. Decided on Astronomy. Am getting the equipment now, because I won't be able to afford it after I retire (but I will have enough for gas money to the dark site!). Coming back to this hobby has probably been the best thing I've done in a long time.......

#18 csrlice12

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 11:51 AM

"Something else - youngsters need to be exposed to this, it doesnt mean they will rush out and buy a Takahashi the day after - you need to sow the seeds. Implantation for Later Action. They may go years with no interest and then remember hmmmmmm maybe that would be fun."

Fits me. I had a scope as a kid, now facing retirement in a couple of years and was looking to pick back up a hobby. Decided on Astronomy. Am getting the equipment now, because I won't be able to afford it after I retire (but I will have enough for gas money to the dark site!). Coming back to this hobby has probably been the best thing I've done in a long time.......

#19 EFT

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 12:48 PM

I don't see a lack of interest so much as a lack of available outlets. The club that I am vice president for does tons of outreach at local schools and other venues and racks up numbers in the thousands of participants each year. It is actually more difficult finding enough people with scopes to man the events than people to come to them. There are individual outreach events where over 500 people show up. Now how many of them develop a personal interest after that is hard to say. In a city of several million where it is no longer possible to put you hands on some good equipment, that certainly doesn't help either. But I'm sure that there are a lot of low end scopes sold through Walmart, etc. We can just hope that they are not so low end to simply drive people away with their poor quality.

#20 droid

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 04:57 PM

In amatuer rocketry we actively promote the hobby , at launches we bring extra kid friendly rockets and motors, usually send the kids home with them.
I beleive our motto of pay it forward is the only way we are going to involve kids, teens or even adults.
If every amateur astronomer donated one scope to a family who cant afford one, and more importantly keep in touch with them after wards to help, we could double the number of amateur astronomers.

#21 korborh

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 05:03 PM

Outreach is not for everyone. Some folks have really hectic lives and time at the eyepiece is precious. Others simply prefer solitude, quiet, and time to reflect for themselves. I don't know of any other hobby that demands outreach as a condition of participation. Why does astronomy but not woodworking, gardening, butterfly collecting, fishing or any other liesure time activity?
dan


Well said. For me, Astronomy is very personal and I like to image/observe alone. Outreach is not my thing.

#22 Stew57

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 05:26 PM

While parents may see $500 doable the time the kids can spend with the scope (vs tablet) is quite low. There is a learning curve which parents may be capable of helping with and the quality of the cheaper walmart type scopes turn parents off. While there is some young people picking up the mantle I am afraid tthere are more of us ole geezers droping out. I think as the quality of the new self aligning goto scopes improves and the costs decrease there will be more interest.

#23 Footbag

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 05:55 PM

I buried this question in one of my posts above, but maybe someone here knows the answer...

Are telescope sales in the US at an all time low? Per unit? How about worldwide.

I'm thinking its going to be hard to quantify "interest" in astronomy. Even then everyone may disagree on what kind of numbers it would take to be considered a resurgence. Is it creating professional astronomers? Selling more telescopes? Or just creating general interest?

It's still a niche hobby. Your club meeting isn't going to get better ratings then any garbage TV. So it may just be a matter of expectations.

#24 Footbag

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 06:12 PM

I also agree that one of the draws to astronomy and imaging can be the alone time. There are many times I wished I didn't have to have conversations while I'm drift aligning. I can appreciate that.

But if you are seriously worried about the decline of astronomy, then maybe that should be the motivation to do outreach.

Either way, its not for everyone. But good thing for those who are doing it. They are planting the seeds as someone suggested above.

#25 EFT

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 06:43 PM

Are telescope sales in the US at an all time low? Per unit? How about worldwide.


I don't think that there is any good way to gauge this, but my bet would be that it is average to high at this point rather than an all time low. You have to figure in the economy and things like that, and there is no Haley's comet right now, but overall, at least based on my business I think that the industry is surprisingly OK considering the economy. I think, and hope, that it can get better, but it is not likely at an all time low.






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