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#1 skyguy88

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 02:45 AM

Rip Van Winkle VI attended a typical public star party in October, 1983 and then proceeded to sleep for the next 30 years. He woke up last week and after eating for a few days he attended a typical star party.

My question is, what would Rip VI see in 2013 that he wouldn't have seen in 1983?

I've only been engaged in this wonderful science for about 10 years. It really puzzles me that there isn't broader public interest. Reading recent issues of the "Reflector" I'm struck by the despair of a lot of folks.

So my question is really about whether typical outreach programs introduce the ideas inherent in the scientific advances of recent decades, and the exquisite images that appear regularly in the press, on television and the internet.

Kids respond dramatically to mere mention of Black Holes. Most visitors to public programs are vaguely familiar with the notions of an expanding universe and our being made of stardust. People are generally curious about comets, asteroids, and shooting stars. Exoplanets and life beyond our little planet are topics of general fascination. How do you channel those fascinations into a broader interest in astronomy. These objects don't show up in an ep.

The internet provides a feast for anyone interested in astronomy. How can you get people to use that wealth of material?

How do you get people to think about the science.

I'd like to hear your ideas.

Bill

#2 Skylook123

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 03:49 PM

So many comments and directions one could take on this one, Bill. Cultural, technological, even purpose could almost be books on their own.

My first comment would be that, typically, and only in my extensive but still only my own, experience, is that outreach as Rip VI would find it is often going in a direction that stresses eye candy over knowledge, understanding, priming the pump of questions. I decided a few years ago to take a different tack. I still do the teaching moments at the scope, but our former club president and I were uneasy about how we do our dozen outreaches each month. So, since he knew I have an inborn nature to be intrigued by the WHY? of human behavior, and include it in my at-the-scope sessions, he asked me to enhance the sessions I was part of. Wow, what a license to indulge. So, as the sun is setting and there is little to see but a planet or two, or the moon, or the twilight wedge, I do the use your own eyes binocular vision look as things pop out, and why did people in the past care?

Rip VI would find humans pursue what they need. At least, that's one thing we can learn from examining about 7000 years or more of human culture. Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians needed to know how to feed the population reliably, so they discovered the relationship between Sirius and the Nile river flooding, and got the calendar they needed. But they also believed in an afterlife and needed a way to get there, so Osiris (Orion) was an essential element of life. Chaco Canyon and the nearby Navajo cultures needed a way to understand what the life and cultural needs could be met, and the Sun and Moon became essential to those groups to the point of tribal astronomers building calendars and watching the sky day and night, and on July 5,1054 saw the supernova in daylight from the night before that became the Crab Nebula. Europeans didn't not note it; only the Chinese, Chaco, Navajo, Mimbres, and possibly Inca/Aztec cultures noted this bright object in daytime next to a crescent moon. A need to understand, at least in their own terms.

So, what would Rip VI find? Today's cultures just don't need the sky as a core essential to their survival, so they don't have that ingrained need to explore it, other than the rare individual with the intellectual curiosity for asking WHY or HOW just for the intrinsic value. The eye candy is pretty, even impressive as I posted from GCSP last June; seeing your nebulae images darn near brought tears to my eyes. But do I need them for my life? Personally, heck yes but the next person over isn't so driven.

So I cheat a bit when the Grand Canyon has me conduct the night sky constellation tours just as I do when I'm one of the volunteers at our local events. I put it all in a context of this is what other cultures got from the visions they see, what do YOU see? I now know of at least two English teachers who were impressed with this motivation enough to that they take their students out on a spring night, assign segments of the sky to students, and use the night sky for descriptive writing exercises. One told me that by having her students each write several hundred words about what their imagination generates in their piece of the sky, they can then identify students with hidden talents or problems. Replaces the writing 500 words describing a thumbtack.

I try to take the night sky exposure a step beyond the eye candy or the North Star/Ecliptic/Milky Way sign posts and try to encourage the What Do You See? No right answer - it's personal, and yours. LOTS of great conversations start. One night at sunset I introduced the idea of Native American differences in the use of the night sky. It got dark, I went over to the 18" all prepared for the stellar evolution story and The Ring nebula, and for the next two hours all the visitors wanted to talk about was the Apache point of view and the effect on Geronimo's life compared to Navajo, Seminole, and Cherokee ideas, all the while looking up at the sky. At least 100 or more out of the audience of 350 we had that night in a state park were now invested in more exploration.

The rest of us? Rip VI will find lots of gee whiz technology and pretty things to see, but most times, why does modern culture need to go to the internet to explore other than the rare innate curiousity? Truthfully, culturally, we don't need it. That's why the most successful argument to reduce light pollution is economic and not to see a better sky.

You and all the other folks who do live video astronomy are doing a much deeper dive into the attraction of the night sky. The challenge we have in modern times is to open minds to something that they don't need for survival, but which human culture still seems called to, given the right motivation. And I think the challenge is to make it personal.

Technologically, he would see more beauty and more simplicity and more complexity and more capability than he could imagine. He might be familiar with a 17.5" Coulter tube dob - imagine his reaction to a 30" Obsession. He might thing an 8" SCT that has a tracking motor is the bees knees. How about a 14" portable Celestron with full GOTO and a guide scope for imaging? And he might be aware of professional astronomers in cages at focus with film plates taking 8 hour images. Imagine seeing the post processed images from the latest SBIG magic? And of course, you'd blow his socks off with your MCHP on Triffid, or Lagoon, or anything in Virgo or Coma Berenices. LIVE.

Rip VI and the Internet? I'll bet the Ripper didn't even know who Al Gore was.

#3 skyward_eyes

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 08:41 PM

This is a interesting topic. Jim had some good points we well. My stance is a bit different as I actually work in the industry.

It seems to me that most people seem to have a curiosity about space/astronomy. The problem is most people are never exposed to it so it goes unnoticed. Many dont event know they have a curiosity until something major happens or they come to a public event. For some the curiosity is small and is fulfilled with a quick glimpse. Others catch the bug and want to learn more. Also, I do think the shift in pop culture is changing, being "nerdy" or into science is becoming a little bit more main stream. From the young scientists seen lander the Mars rover to the show the Big Bang Theory, it is becoming more main stream. The problem is people just dont know where to take the next step if the are interested.

Another note is that technology is always advancing. People love gizmos and things they can hold. This is the approach I have chosen to take for my Focus organization. We have several large telescopes and advanced gear to put on them. I have found that if you can find something people relate to they become more interested. For example, many people now days have a smart phone, iPad, etc... On several of our telescopes we have added the Sky Safari WiFi attachment. This allows us to control the GoTo telescopes using our smart phone and iPad. People grasp onto this quickly as they know those items. They see that it can be used on another level gets them excited. It may not be truly learning the sky but at least we have taken to first steps in engaging them. Once engaged we bring them to the real astronomy stuff. Many seem to take it in easily if brought to a basic level. If they have a more advanced interest I will make an effort to move up with them.

Another thing we do is allow people to take pictures using their cell phones. The cameras on the phones have gotten pretty good now days. This is pretty cool because people take away something from the event. Capturing nice images of the moon is the easiest. With this they can run home and post on the interest about the experience. This sparks other peoples interest because they want to know how they did it! They tell them and find out next event and the group grows. All because of one picture! Just gotta plant the seed.

So I guess to wrap it up. I use things that people can easily relate to. iPad, phones, etc... People see that this can connect them to a whole new world and they get excited.

#4 Skylook123

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Posted 05 October 2013 - 02:20 AM

VERY well put first paragraph, Kevin. A long time club member and I had a long discussion about this topic tonight at the club meeting. Both of us are rather senior in age, and I think, Kevin, that you and I have similar points of view in in virtually all cases, but mine are altered by different cultural experiences. In tonight's discussion, the question came up along the lines of why was our generation now in our 60s so curious and driven to learn tech and spacey stuff, and how to unlock the curiosity we know is buried inside the thoughts of a current, much younger generation. Gosh, Kevin, you're going to have to accept that you're creeping forward in your life group.

My take is, when I was growing up, the 1950s and 1960s were an age of bombardment by the government at every possible turn to stress the achievements done, and needing to be done, to keep up with the Soviet Union out of a real fear. It was a naked survival drive. So at every turn it seemed that science, math, engineering, and most importantly their application on tremendously challenging and interesting programs was pounded at us. Fear of the Soviets beating us and, by inference, turning the US into a second class nation at risk of economic and even physical domination by an evil empire. When we won the race to the moon, that accomplishment was accompanied by the Viet Nam War debacle. We lost the daily focus on the advancement of space and related operations because we won the race, and even the former lap dogs of government, the news media, became focused on gotcha topics, lots of sizzle with no steak. We lost the external emphasis. We went to the moon and learned the science and were excited by the search for knowledge and achievement because we were told to be driven that way. Did we jump from the moon outward? Why should we? We won. The focus on whether a program should be supported became economic, not political. The Soviets weren't going to Mars, why should we? What's the immediate payoff? Darn near a Ferengi point of view. No national drive meant no drumbeat of selling the need for space advances meant none of the impressionable generations were feeling the environment. We have no cultural need for space and astronomy, so when the other push, the political drive to beat the other guys, became empty to the point of non-existence and without that external push, the exposure evaporated despite the innate yearning that we uncover in our outreach efforts, but which barely lasts a day or two after the awakening. There is little national will to push the technological development, and the pump doesn't prime itself.

I heard tonight that California math, engineering, and science university graduation numbers are 45th in the nation, in a state with Silicon Valley! My generation, from our time in elementary school through college, was hammered with the need for technological growth in really interesting areas for the survival of our nation in the political realm. Nowadays, there is some hand wringing over the decay of our capabilities, but that is just bemoaning the state of the railroad tracks with no focus on the train's destination, or even if a destination should exist. Unless the national will to achieve real accomplishments and the desire to fund the efforts to support the achievements needed, I am afraid Rip VI will be shocked at the change in national will, and he'll be putting his money on the Chinese and their current space platform and exploration efforts being more successful. And their goals are right along where the Soviets were - the combined political and military national dominance. We don't seem to see that, and our leaders don't encourage the current generation with the force and drive that the national leadership did when I was in all levels of school. Without this national will, other than the wringing of hands, I've afraid that all those minds we open will miss the door stop to keep them open, and they close back up. We too often sell the eye candy, not the joy of the discovery along with it. Rip VI would, and should, be very afraid.

You, Bill, myself, and countless others who perform outreach awakenings, do wonderful things that are the initial inoculation but the booster shots are rare in coming, and they need to come from the top. Otherwise, we are using a soaker hose on a forest fire. All we can hope for is that our setting of the open door includes the door stop to keep it open.

#5 skyward_eyes

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Posted 05 October 2013 - 09:39 AM

Jim,

Your post was very interesting. It is sad today that there is no drive on the upper levels of the country for the future. Everything now days is so caught up in the "now". People dont look towards the future it seems, its always what can this/you do for me now. I find that my main mission in outreach is to get people to slow down, look at the big picture and really understand that there is more to life then whats in our day to day life. Now I understand it is difficult to get away from this as many are so busy. I have even noticed this with my co-workers at Celestron. Everyone is busy with making new products, preparing for shows, etc... that they forget why they started working here to begin with. I invited several out tonight to a dark sky site tonight and they are quite excited because they remember the good times of observing. When it wasn't work, it was a passion. This seems to be a problem with people in the industry itself. We are on astronomy/telescopes 24/7 at work so it seems people get burned out with it. I try to bring this back by once again making them slow down and view. You can't forget your roots be it in the industry of astronomy or the heads of a country. People need to slow down and look whats around them, see the big picture. I get this a lot at the GCSP, many people never see so many stars. I tell them they are always there, you just gotta take the time to look up.

For me astronomy is like a life philosophy. It has taught me a lot about what is important in life. I use to play a lot of video games and watch TV when I was younger. Once I got the bug things changed. I was out several nights a week and helping out with the Stargazing for Everyone group quite often. I saw that there was so much more to life then whats on the TV, Internet and my phone. People seem to like this stop and smell the roses mentality. Now whether or not they get into astronomy is fine. My main push is that people get out and see what nature has to offer. Stop being cooped up inside and listening to what other people have done on TV. Make your own adventure, go explore and discover the world around you. Astronomy is a great way to do that but you can also do that by just taking a simple walk. Look at the leaves in the trees and the birds flying around. You gotta stop and enjoy life, it doesnt always have to be a million miles a minute. I admit I am busy to, I dont do as much observing as I would like. Having no yard at the moment is a factor for that but I do make it a point to get out and slow down as much as possible. Even if that means taking a telescope out of my office and viewing the moon in the morning once and a while.

Also, in regards to the drive for space. I do feel that we are at the beginning of a new space race. One however that is not as publicized. With the private industry exploding skyward I think we will start seeing a bigger race in the private sector such as Space X. I am hopping that this might even spark another national race when the govt. sees private industry accomplishing things on their own. It is pretty cool to me that just because the govt is shutdown now does mean the race for space has stopped. If you've got the drive and the money you can accomplish the quest for space.

#6 Skylook123

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Posted 05 October 2013 - 03:11 PM

Kevin, we agree in most parts, except I have a year or two (really, forty) that have seen the cultural change in the drive to space. The individual human calling to the sky is still there, but the level of intensity of the cultural drive is woefully less direct and dramatic than when I was of your age. Since we've observed together going on ten years now, I've acquired a tremendous respect for your, and Tony's Stargazing For Everyone crew, success in raising the consciousness of those privileged to experience your efforts. But the competition for attention is much stronger now, while the external motivation is almost nil as a continuing prod to the skies. Ol' Rip VI would awaken to find quite a big boulder to push up a very steep hill. We all are doing our best, but I fear other interests drive the national will, until the Chinese finish the development of the operational capability of their space outpost. Maybe then we'll see a continuum of attention to space to aid those of us who only can do the task episode by episode. The arrow of time goes one way, however. I sure wish I had your enthusiasm; I have some of it, but still have the drive to do it. I hope the enthusiasm pulls us through, and if anyone can push us forward, you and Bill and like minded folks can. I think Rip VI will find us in a retail form; I hope Focus can get us to the wholesale level.

#7 skyguy88

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 01:25 AM

Hi Jim,

Well, you've raised a host of issues that are well above my pay grade. I'm afraid that I'm a little too old to deal with the sociological explanations for where humanity stands.

So I think that I'll have to satisfy myself with finding ways to optimize the way we do outreach. For me, that means engaging people with ideas that define modern astronomy and at the same time capture imaginations. Video helps a lot. Some of the big themes of modern astronomy leap from the screen in full color. M27 is a prime example. The brilliant color leads directly to the ideas of element formation and stellar evolution. When it's up, it spends a lot of time on my screen while we discuss its significance.

But there are many ideas that I like to present that don't follow from anything that we can show on a screen or in an eyepiece. One of them is the scales of the universe. I've found that using a model of the milky way works well. On my model, about 20 inches in diameter, the solar system disk out to Neptune's orbit is about the size of a needle point and Andromeda is 25 diameters away.

Comets, asteroids, shooting stars, the expanding universe, the number of galaxies out there, black holes, orbits (comets asteroids, galaxies, galaxy groups, globs, binaries, etc) are all topics that don't (usually) show in scopes but attract people and deserve some special treatment. I'm thinking that stations set up before dark with images, film clips, and people prepared to discuss these topics in depth would work. I suspect that most clubs have knowledgeable members who don't have scopes, don't have portable scopes, or just don't want to participate in public observing would be willing (or eager) to staff an "idea" station.

TAAA is probably way ahead of what I'm thinking about, but then TAAA in not a typical club. My guess is that, in most places, Rip would see or learn little more at a public star party in 2013 than in 1983. Increased aperture, but not many 30 inchers. About dark matter, dark energy, expansion, the scale of the universe, black holes, Nada. Color, the key to most of what we know about the universe, barely, at most.

Bottom line, I'm concerned about finding ways to expand interest in astronomy and science. The world might not be as receptive as I'd like, but we've got to work with what we've got.

Bill

#8 csrlice12

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 07:16 AM

One thing he WON'T see, is the darker skies he had 30 years ago.........

#9 BrooksObs

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 10:55 AM

Old Rip would be amazed, perhaps even horrified, to find many factors had changed during his 30 year snooze. Not the least of these would be that both amateur astronomers AND the public have far less scientific savvy relative to the current state of astronomy than three decades ago.

In many ways the science involved in modern astronomy and the understanding needed to convey what is happening in the real world is beyond the average amateur doing out reach. At the same time, science has become far less of a taught subject in pre-college education. This is compounded by the virtual death of the American manned space program and absolutely any foreseeable real goals therein to challenge the public's imagination.

Further impacting the situation, a high percentage of amateur astronomers have been reduced to little more than mere stargazers, so heavily dependent on their GOTO telescopes and gizmos that they can no longer find anything strictly on their own and without computer assistance.

Perhaps the worst problem, at least in my book, is that society's interests have turned dramatically inward and about self-importance, with more than half of American's glued hopelessly to pointless communication devices all their waking hours. To them, astronomy and understanding science is of basically no interest.

Finally, as others have already made clear, the skies for most Americans has deteriorated so badly in the past 30 years that most can hope for no more than to clearly see a handful of the very brightest stars from where they live. This makes the sky increasingly irrelevant to them, that is unless some totally uninformed internet blogger starts raving about some comet (which ends up a flop for potential viewers), or some non-event like a supposed once-in-a-lifetime giant full moon.

BrooksObs

#10 csrlice12

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 01:07 PM

He would probably determine that mankind is living proof that evolution works both ways......

#11 skyguy88

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 05:38 PM

I agree with much of your commentary, but I remain optimistic about what amateur astronomers can accomplish. Having addressed roughly 12,000 people in recent years, I have yet to face a crowd that wasn't eager to grasp the big themes.

If amateurs aren't comfortable with the complexity of the universe, that can be dealt with. Maybe meetings should focus more on ideas. There is so much material at every level on the net, that with just a little guidance, anyone can step up his understanding with just a few clicks. A good list of links should be readily available. Pick a topic, say stellar evolution, distribute a link list and then have a discussion of the topic at the next meeting. Within a year you could have a whole club up to speed.

We can have major impact on schools. One of our members has had an ongoing involvement with a local middle school (with a welcoming staff). We did a star party recently at that school and the kids were clearly familiar with the themes that I presented.

As far as amateurs not knowing the sky. I only joined the astronomy world a decade ago. I quickly decided that I would be dead before I really knew the sky and bought a go-to mount. I really got excited when, because I've got some physics behind me and one of our planned speakers had a schedule problem. I had a few months to learn enough about stellar evolution to do a public talk. I immersed myself in the science and I was hooked. I'm hooked on the discoveries, the history and the Ideas. While it would be nice to know my way around the night sky, and to know the mythological stories, they just don't grab me to the extent that they compete with the modern science. And by the way, as far as I can remember, I learned nothing about astronomy as a kid. If I did, it would have been a map of the planets, forget comets, asteroids, stars, galaxies.

We ought to think about how to use the communications technologies. I share your disdain for the perpetual diviceing, but I try to take advantage of visitors who show up with astro aps.

Deteriorating sky conditions are certainly limiting, but video helps. Since the camera doesn't rely on dark adaptation it can provide good views of reasonably bright objects (M27,17,57,51,NGC891,253, for example) despite relatively bright skies. As a bonus, it extends the "dark enough" part of the month substantially.

The welcoming crowds that I've engaged with ideas have given me confidence that we can really make a difference.

Astronomy is probably the most visible science. If we present it well, we can influence views of all of science.

Cockeyed optimist,

Bill

#12 Skylook123

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 12:01 AM

Bill, the optimism is essential. And the personal involvement with every one of the "customers" is so uplifting. Without that element of enthusiasm, we're dead at this adventure. And really, we do make a difference. but I do see a missing element that I've been yakking about in this thread: the very tangible drive as a culture that acknowledges the importance. And you really have a great statement about the most visible science.

You mentioned focusing on the science of the experience and not so much the night sky structure and cultural development. We are quite a bit different in how we come at the sky as we do the science. I enjoy the comparative cultural approaches to the night sky and it's use and meaning such that my night adventures are built around that core. But only because it fascinates me, and I share it. Every sunset at one of my events, while we wait for the eye candy other than moon and planets to introduce themselves, we tour the sky and how various groups look at the same things. Do you see the plow of the Celts, the dipper of the Greeks, or an elephant of creation in the Big Dipper? How about the Milky way, and other features of the season? I put the interpretive load on the crowd, get them engaged in owning what the see, since there is no right answer. Do you see the Teapot of the archer, or the bear of the Navajo as the spout becomes its nose rising up at sunset in spring, coming out of hibernation to let us know summer's on the way, and in late fall the spout/nose is setting so the bear is going into hibernation; time to get ready for winter.

Each approach - showing a video about constellations or doing a solar system scale demo as it gets dark, or talking culture, no wrong way. It's all good. Opening minds to the sky, as you note; opens the cognitive thinking for other endeavors. I do, though, remember a time when we did not have all the great equipment we now have, but had societal pressure to drive to science. And, of course, you never know what one life you'll touch.

It's all good, but we have a big challenge. We'll save the forest one tree at a time, have a heck of a lot of fun doing it, and my little mission is to try to shift the ownership of the experience to the visitor, engage them, not just talk at 'em. I force them, when I can, to let me know what it means to them and let them know the ownership is theirs in a positive, affirming way.

While I don't see the big political drive as when I was in high school when freaking Eisenhower was president, it is so enjoyable I live for it. Oh, and my Jr. PRO will ship this weekend, (don't have to wait for the Hyper to be delivered, and the PRO fits my needs better at half the cost) as soon as Jack gets the check I mailed. And I will be out with two scopes and one video on the UofA Mall for Saturday's International Observe the Moon Night; my wife told me today she wants me to take a second scope so SHE can do the outreach too since her knees that are needing transplants no longer take the standing for the crater and lunar surface demo she would normally do. So she'll do the video on the 90mm scope because she can sit with it, and I'll do moon plus other targets with the 10" the old fashioned way. And by next weekend, two Mallincams will be available when my wife wants to join in, like in two weeks when we do the public night under the stars at Catalina State Park. We need another scope or two, and she always jumps in. She loves the video instructing, and she taught this stuff for two decades before retiring but her eyes don't let her focus on distributed objects in an eyepiece. With video, she's back in the game.

I really am more optimistic than ever, and the public outreach is what I live for. But we need some sort of sea change in political will, or it'll be us folks opening minds one at a time, rather than giving group booster shots to the already inoculated. One tree at a time.

#13 skyguy88

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Posted 14 October 2013 - 07:33 PM

Hi Jim,

I'm delighted to hear that your wife is able to find a comfortable way to do outreach! Another reason for optimism. When I first approached the folks at Lowell with the notion of incorporating video observing in their evening programs, their initial interest was in providing a way to bring observing to visitors with physical or visual issues. We never considered the possibility that video might also help folks who do outreach. Wonderful!

If I was more familiar with the cultural traditions I would undoubtedly incorporate that knowledge into my events. Actually, other members of our club focus on the traditions when we do programs in Prescott. Similarly, Knowing the sky better would certainly be a help if for no other reason than
the alignment problem that I had at the canyon. Too many stars...what an embarrassment. :-)

I agree, whatever we can do to enrich events is a real positive. My criterion for success is whether we've gotten people thinking about ideas, about the scales of the universe, the way stars have produced the elements that make our world, the expansion of the universe, the continuous renewal of the star population, dark matter and dark energy, black holes,...... Most of these themes are bouncing around in the back of peoples minds as familiar words, but with little understanding. That provides a fertile field.

I had another great night at Lowell Saturday. Three or four hundred visitors (a lot of Grand Canyon rejects, I suspect) despite the fact that it's getting pretty cold. One thing that I hadn't seen before was one guy who had set up a scope with a phone camera. He had a really nice view of the moon. I think that he was transferring the image to visitors phones or letting them take images themselves. A nice idea! I like to see anything that engages people.

Do you folks provide handouts? I (all too infrequently) put together a page of objects that I expect to present with a description of what they'll see, the object's significance in the big picture and a link to a Hubble image. I include links to APOD, The Galaxy Center Group, and a few other sites that grab me. Sometimes I include lists of additional objects that they can see by doing a Google search..to get people exploring on their own. Actually a better way to do that would be to put the whole thing on a club website, where they can just click on the links rather than having to type them in.

There is no end to the possibilities to make the the visitor experience dynamic and lasting.

Cheers,

Bill






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