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Sidewalk Astronomy ideas

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#1 MikeBOKC

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 07:32 AM

After some discussion within our local club, I have been tasked with creating a regular sidewalk astronomy program. Having viewed websites of a number of clubs that do such programs, I find some common ingredients:

-- Pick a high traffic location where lots of people will be as a matter of course. In effect, bring the astronomy to them rather than hoping to get them to come to the astronomy.
-- Hold the event at the same location(s) on the same date(s) each month to assure continuity.
-- If possible piggyback the events on an existing attraction or location (like a park) that can help the club promote it.

We are looking at approaching the merchants association of the large downtown entertainment district (restaurants, nightclubs, concert venues, etc.) where perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 people gather on weekend nights.

Have I missed anything that should go into making an ongoing club sidewalk astronomy program successful? Our goals are public recognition of the hobby, membership recruiting and a bit of light pollution education.

#2 Doc Willie

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 08:16 AM

Security. Big crowds mean that stuff disappears. Does not mean you have to have a platoon of armed guards, but you should have someone responsible, and have everyone practice situational awareness. One robbery of an eyepiece of pair of binoculars will leave a bad taste in the owner's mouth and discourage others from participating.

#3 darthwyll

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 11:24 AM

Wow. What a strange coincidence. I was about to make the same post almost word for word. This is something our club has been talking about for a little while. I’m also interested in ideas and experience with this type of thing. To me, it seems the best way to interact with the general public and show them astronomy. They may not even be expecting to see Saturn that night and it might make them more aware of astronomy or it may spark an interest in them or their kids. I’m going to be looking into doing this sort of thing at festivals and fairs. I figure the best security is to only bring what is absolutely necessary. One eyepiece, barlow and scope. Show one or two objects and talk about the hobby. That should be plenty. Great post! I’m glad someone beat me to it.

#4 Astrosetz

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 12:38 PM

Our club (and I personally along with them) has been doing outreach and sidewalk astronomy for over thirty years, in a variety of situations and neighborhoods, and we have never had anything stolen or damaged. We just keep an eye on our stuff, which is easy to do when we're right there doing the outreach. I think it also helps that we tend to only set up and take out what we need; we'll have one eyepiece in the focuser and if there are one or two more that we'll use, they either live in a pocket or they are in a closed case sitting in plain sight right at the scope.

If you're going to do outreach for your club, I HIGHLY recommend getting business cards with your club logo, a simple catchphrase regarding astronomy, and your website. These are very inexpensive to have made at the local office supply store, so you can give them out to everyone who looks in the eyepiece. Cards are easy for telescope operators to hold in their hand and give out while they're doing the outreach thing, and just as importantly they are easy for the recipient to accept and put in their pocket.

If you have the ability to have a manned info table with full-size brochures and schedules, that's good too; even so, having those cards in every telescope operator's hands or pocket is the best way to get the most audience penetration.

#5 darthwyll

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 01:29 PM

Business cards are a fantastic idea. All the most important club info should be easy to see and use. Site address, president's email and the like.. Great idea. I can't tell you how many times I wished we had those being out there. It's better than telling them to google your club. Hah!

#6 mrowlands

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 01:55 PM

I'd suggest you get a generic Google-like email address for the club that can then be forwarded to the current applicable officer(s).

Mike R.

#7 jerwin

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 02:08 PM

Just be aware that viewing from a downtown area probably limits you to planets and the moon only. Or for our club anyways, in our LP anyways. I'm just as guilty of trying to pull in a tiny light polluted faint fuzzy and show someone and you typically get a look like, should I see something. Hard to explain averted vision anyway, let alone in the 20 seconds you have someones attention. So I'd say yes to try to hit the same day of the week each month. Time is a little tougher as the days get longer and shorter, but if you can shoot for a partial moon it would provide another target.

We also try to promote our websites calendar of events, and recently someone came up with some QR barcodes so people could link to our site from their phones. Some do have cards which also help because they are easy to hand out to someone interested.

One guy in our club also makes cards for different things and hands them out to kids, we all joke that they are collector items, but the kids (at least at the time) do think it's cool that they got a moon card or a Saturn card. And make sure to bring some kind of a step stool for kids.

The one thing we get a few of, which we never really know how to deal with is someone that says, they want to become a member right now. We never seem to bring any membership forms or stuff to accommodate something like that, so we tell them to check our calendar and come to the next meeting. When they walk away if you'll ever see them again.

Personally I have the most fun doing solar outreach, just don't setup near the optimists office. :p. Between white light and Ha and solar projection, we usually have enough different views of the same thing. I LOVE when someone looks in my Lunt and then calls over the rest of their family and say, Honey you HAVE to look at this one. :)

Good luck,
Jim

#8 Doc Willie

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 02:25 PM

[quote
Personally I have the most fun doing solar outreach, just don't setup near the optimists office. :p. [/quote]

Nah. They don't like hearing about the eventual death of the sun.

#9 Gardner

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 06:44 PM

Our club has been doing Sidewalk Astronomy nights once a month for about 2 1/2 years now. Because we are viewing from an extremely well lit area, our night is always scheduled for the Saturday night closest to first quarter moon so we have a bright target, as well of course any planets that are visible.

Usually we have a table set up with club brochures and astronomy related give-away stuff. Sometimes we have also a large moon map on an easel folks can check out.

I've never had a security breach at one of these events nor have I heard of anyone else having one. Later in the evening the crowd tends to get younger and slightly inebriated but again, we've never had a problem. I enjoy these events immensely and plan to continue attending them.

#10 omahaastro

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Posted 30 May 2013 - 01:23 AM

We incorporate all three of your three ingredients...

1. We setup at a downtown location, where hundreds of people frequent on a given night... feature views of first quarter Moon, bright planets.
2. We have a monthly 'Second Tuesdays' event at a suburban park, have begun to get a following.
3. We've hooked up with Earth Day, which is almost always within a week of Astronomy Day, to tap into several THOUSAND people... have a booth, solar observing during the day. Most recently, we participated in a Nebraska Science Fest event... have done events at wineries, outside the symphony hall for Holst concerts, etc, etc.

#11 tedbnh

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Posted 09 June 2013 - 06:11 AM

Just to expand on what my friend Gardner said above, our sidewalk event is not held on the same night of the month, it is held on the Saturday night closest to first quarter moon.

This makes scheduling a bit tougher, but you want to do this in order to always be able to show people something interesting. From bright downtown locations you essentially have 3 targets - the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. (And every couple of years, Mars, but it is so infrequent that I almost forgot about it!) Yes, we have shown people M42, double stars and clusters from downtown, but the experience is not like it is from a dark site. So we don't usually bother.

The moon never fails to be interesting if it is around the first quarter phase. Then during months when Saturn or Jupiter are in the sky, you have "icing on the cake."

If you hold it on the same night every month (e.g. the first Friday) there will be some months when you find yourself with nothing to look at.

During months where first quarter moon falls on a Wednesday you have to decide whether to choose the Saturday before or after. We almost always choose the one after because the earlier Saturday's (thin crescent) moon sets too early.

As far as location goes, you'll need to find a spot where your view to the south is not restricted by nearby buildings, and you want good visibility to the east and west as well. The moon and planets will move through quite a bit of the sky over the course of a 4- or 5-hour evening and you don't want to lose them behind buildings. Good views to the east are important so you can jump on objects soon after they rise.

You also want to consider public safety by choosing a wide place on the sidewalk where people can safely pass and where lines can form without spilling into the street.

Make sure the event is listed on your club calendar and insure your club's liability insurance is up to date. Someone could trip, a scope could fall over, you name it and you might get sued. Be protected.

These are among my favorite events that our club offers. I wish you the best of luck.

#12 csrlice12

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 07:45 AM

I'd try and find something close to a family venue like near the city zoo or museum or planetarium/observatory. People are there for an exotic experience, this would just be icing on the cake! Late nite at the heart of the downtown bar scene just won't make it.....

#13 Astrosetz

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 10:39 PM

The bar scene isn't ideal, but higher-traffic areas have many more people. Movie theaters and shopping centers are ideal for sidewalk astronomy.

#14 Matthew Ota

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 04:42 PM

In the fifteen years I have been doing outreach, I have had only two incidents of theft. A book was stolen at a JPL Open House where I was doing solar astronomy outreach for the TIE Foundation, and a transparent red plexiglas notebook computer screen cover at the SCAE it OPT in Oceanside CA a few years ago. I have never had equipment in jeopardy at outreach events at schools.

Security. Big crowds mean that stuff disappears. Does not mean you have to have a platoon of armed guards, but you should have someone responsible, and have everyone practice situational awareness. One robbery of an eyepiece of pair of binoculars will leave a bad taste in the owner's mouth and discourage others from participating.








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