Since some of the goals of public outreach are to generate interesting in and raise awareness of obstructions to the hobby, I figured I should mention an unusual outreach I was part of last weekend.
The Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) has been hosting a star party at the Staunton River State Park (SRSP) in VA for 5 years or so. During this time the park manager and district manager have not only helped to facilitate this event but have also come to realize that the night sky is one of the natural resources under their care. Given how great the park system is in VA it shouldn't have been surprising that they put their knowledge to work.
It first began with lighting changes at SRSP and then began the push for dark sky certification at the park. Since the district manager was on board with the certification, he encouraged the local communities to amend their ordinances to include light pollution mitigation efforts. Most, if not all, took heed and made the recommended changes. Even more, the district manager mandated that all parks in his district become dark sky compliant and ensured there was budget to do so. A couple of these parks are now seeking certification themselves.
As it happens SRSP became the first park in VA to be IDA certified, an achievement not overlooked by the governor. During an annual meeting of park officials at SRSP last weekend, the governor dedicated the field as a Dark Sky Observation Area with an official sign. To show appreciation to the governor and park officials, members of the CHAOS group, the Raleigh Astronomy Club (RAC), and the Richmond Astronomical Society (RAS) held an observing session for everyone on Sunday and Monday nights.
The governor, his family, and his staff were there on Sunday night and were treated to views of whatever the clouds would permit. The DSOs in general held out very well however the jewel of the evening was Jupiter. Europa's shadow transit was definitely the highlight. M51 was visible to most and you could just make out her spiral arms. M3 was superb and even the Owl Nebula separated itself from the hazy background for a moment or two.
It wasn't a long session and most everyone had gone back to their cabins by about 10:30PM. However, the governor was interested in seeing Saturn so myself and some folks from RAS hung around, observing a little, drinking coffee, and sharing stories until 3AM when we advised him to show up. Show up he did, with a couple of staff in tow as well.
Saturn didn't look particularly great at 3, being somewhat in the soup, but M13 was wonderful as always. The governor even climbed a ladder to look through the eyepiece of a large Dob and got to see M13's "spider legs." Disappointed with Saturn I slewed back over to Jupiter and what do you know, there was another shadow transit (Io) already in progress. We all got to appreciate seeing two shadow transits in one evening before calling it a night at about 4AM.
At some point during the evening I realized it was a regular public outreach, as the governor stopped being the governor for an evening and was just enjoying the night sky with his family and friends (and staff...). Seeing his kids lying in the grass staring up at the night sky enjoying all that it had to offer left me confident that we made a lasting impression. Not just with some politicians, but with a family.
I didn't ever expect I'd participate in such an outreach but was glad I had the opportunity to do so. It's wonderful to see such interest from not only the park system, but from the top politicians in the state. VA may not be nearly as dark as many areas out West but it's certainly an astronomy friendly state.