putting more beef into outreach
Posted 30 July 2014 - 06:33 PM
In nearly a decade of doing outreach programs I have found a real appetite for what I think of as the big ideas of modern astronomy. Most of the people that I have encountered (roughly 15000) are at least vaguely familiar with some of what is known and welcome an opportunity to expand their understanding.
If I bring up the expansion of the universe, black holes, element formation, stellar evolution, the big bang, extra solar planets, the number of galaxies in the universe, the number of stars in our galaxy, the geometry of the Milky Way, the scale and age of the universe, dark matter and energy, or similar subjects people are interested and ask good questions. Then there are supernovae, comets, asteroids, meteorites, formation of the solar system, life elsewhere, and more.
My main tool is a video observing system. It allows me to present striking images of a wide range of deep sky objects to a group, without the need to coach individuals on seeing things in an eyepiece. All of my time can be spent explaining what we are observing together.
There are always multiple bright objects available. In midsummer, the brilliantly colored Sagittarius nebulae provide wonderful starting points for discussion of star formation and, coupled with the Dumbbell nebula, provide a nice link to stellar evolution. The Dumbbell on its own cries out for an explanation of element formation.
We also have the Whirlpool and NGC 4565 to show two perspectives of spiral galaxies. After we digest a few galaxies, I like to point out that there are about 200 billion more. That often elicits skeptical comments, like, “How can you possibly know that?” I usually use a display that can be switched to a laptop output. I can bring up the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and use it to explain how we can do a galaxy estimate.
Light and sky conditions often prohibit people from seeing the Milky Way. I often bring up an image of the Milky Way. I also use a homemade model of the Milky Way to give people a sense of where we are in the galaxy, why our view of the magnificent spiral is just a bright band across the sky, and where some of the objects that we observe are located.
There is always interest in black holes. I often use the time before darkness to explore issues like this that I won’t be able to show live. The UCLA galaxy center group produced an excellent 16 year animation of stars orbiting the central black hole. It’s a real show stopper, and beyond the black hole discussion, it offers an opportunity to consider the whole idea of orbits; moons, planets, galaxies, galaxy clusters, binaries, etc.
There are many ways to expand outreach beyond the Solar system and a few faint fuzzies (On my 20 inch MW model the whole solar system out to Neptune’s orbit is about half of a micro inch). Visitors welcome the introduction of big ideas. If we’re serious about wanting to expand interest in this wonderful science, we need to do more to enrich our visitor’s experiences.
Posted 30 July 2014 - 07:05 PM
- RogerRZ and bobcat83 like this
Posted 30 July 2014 - 08:49 PM
Posted 31 July 2014 - 04:43 PM
Every time we engage someone new, we're making progress. If you learn everything that you can about Saturn and Jupiter then you'll be able to go beyond giving someone a first look. Another step would be to know how the planets formed, and how long ago.
Then you might think about a bright globular like M 13....and the moon. A quick Google search for any of these subjects will get more info than you'll ever need to know.
I've learned a lot by preparing myself to discuss new targets and topics, one by one.
Keep moving on! There is so much fascinating stuff to know.
Posted 31 July 2014 - 06:03 PM
A planetarium would certainly be a great addition, but I'm more inclined to think about easier ways to spread ideas, like an exhibit set up before a star party with focus on a single subject...say, the moon. Images of the whole moon, images and descriptions of surface features, how we think it formed, its internal structure, how it effects the earth, why it's rotation is synced to earth, Apollo videos, etc.
There are a lot of knowledgeable people around who don't usually participate in public star parties but might be enlisted to do this kind of project.
Posted 13 August 2014 - 11:05 PM
For anyone considering video observing, it's worth noting that the cost of dedicated cameras has dropped by roughly half just this year. Six hundred dollars or so is a modest price to pay for a tool that will allow you to share a broad range of DSOs in considerable detail and full color. As a bonus, you can find suitable CRT TV's in bargain stores for $5 or so.