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Just started volunteering at an observatory. What common questions should I know the answer to?

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#1 pika_jime

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 03:49 PM

I'm at the helm of one of the 12" dobsonians tonight, most likely pointed at the owl cluster, perseus double cluster or Andromeda. Aside from the basics of those 3 objects- what are some common astronomy questions should expect from people in line?

 

I'm really nervous, just trying to be as educated and knowledgeable as I can.

 

Thanks for anyone who can help.


Edited by pika_jime, 28 November 2017 - 03:49 PM.

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#2 lee14

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:00 PM

Distance is usually the most asked question in my experience. A brief explanation of a light year helps put things into perspective. The approximate number of stars in a cluster will usually elicit the 'wow response'. I've found it preferable to say 'Can you describe what you see?' rather than 'Do you see such and such?' This is particularly relevant when the observer is young, so they're not telling you what they think you want to hear. Help them determine whether the focus is correct by allowing them to slowly rack the focuser in an out.

 

Lee


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#3 jimthompson

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:01 PM

I find the public is impressed when you can give them a perspective on the size and/or distance of objects you are observing.  A fun sky tour I like to do, especially with a younger audience, is to begin on the Moon and then move to objects that are progressively further away and/or larger in size.  Feeding the stats out in this sort of step-wise manner seems to help people understand better.

 

It is great that you are volunteering your time to outreach.  Well done!  I have always found it a rewarding enterprise, even if you get through to only one person the whole evening.

 

cheers,

 

Jim T.


Edited by jimthompson, 28 November 2017 - 04:02 PM.

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#4 msl615

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:02 PM

How far away are the objects you are observing?

Why are the stars always points....the sun isn't a point?

What kind of telescope should I buy for my (dad, brother, sister, husbands, kids)?

What do I have to do in school to become an astronomer?

Can you show me "x" star.

Why are the galaxies so dim?

I can't see anything through the eyepiece


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#5 jimr2

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:10 PM

All the above in msl615's response, + "How much does this scope cost?", or "How much does a good scope cost?"

 

And again, glad you're volunteering your time for this (important) job, and am sure you will do just fine w/ the public there! Need more folks like you!

 

Jim R.


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#6 ShaulaB

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:20 PM

Definitely stick to WOW objects, like globular cluster M15 and bright open clusters. The blue-and-gold Albireois now near the western horizon. We call it the Cub Scout star around here, as the uniforms for Cubbies are blue and gold.

 

You probably have a smart phone with an astronomy app like Sky Safari. It's ok to say "I don't know, but I can look it up!" Just about any question the general public might have can be answered with info from the app.

 

Have a blast, this will be fun. You will be doing good for your community.



#7 wrnchhead

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:24 PM

I think it's great you're doing this, and I'm kind of jealous. I have considered pulling a John Dobson, and just setting up my scope somewhere people are, and maybe that way I can find someone that is interested, haha. 

 

And yes definitely don't hesitate to use an app to answer questions, I would explain there's more stars than grains of sand on this whole planet, there's no way someone can know them all!



#8 havasman

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:25 PM

Cost is the #1 Q and by far. There are many answers and you should have yours picked out.

 

The factoid I've found that most gets folks to stop and think is how far APART the stars they're seeing in the eyepiece are. The quad star sigma Orionis is a favorite place to break that one out because the stars appear very close in the field. You don't have to be exact with your info, just reasonably close.

 

They will assume you are brilliant so there's nothing to worry about.


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#9 StarmanDan

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:56 PM

I like to have a basketball handy.  If you were to shrink the sun to the size of a basketball, the earth will be about the size of one of the dots on the ball.  And if you really could shrink them down to that size, they would both become black holes!


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#10 jimr2

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 04:58 PM

Re the cost question, which does come up frequently w/ the public, I usually tell them that the scope they're looking thru--and going ooohh and awwww over, in looking at Saturn, Jupiter, dbl stars, etc, etc--cost less than a midlin' smartphone now (I generally use my 4" (102 mm) Orion Mak on a sturdy alt-az mount/tripod, which I see from Orion's current catalog, only runs $230 for the scope--and their 5" model is only $370, and throw in maybe another $200 for a good alt-az mount/tripod, and you're into the hobby w/ some quality gear for under $500-$600 (+ a couple hundred for 2-3 extra/better eyepieces maybe), which won't get you much of a smartphone these days (seeing that the new iPhone runs 1 Grand now...).

 

But of course w/ your 12" Dob there, depending on how fancy it is, you'd have to tell them that it's only a little more than a good smartphone probably, seeing that Orion's 12" "push-to" Dob is currently selling for $1280, and their Go-To 12" Dob for $1700. Anyhow, I think it helps to put the cost of whatever scope you're talking about w/ them in perspective, compared to some other item that they probably already own or are thinking of buying or upgrading to, etc. (like even a new set of tires for the family car--I just had to shell out over $900 for a set of 4 of those for my vehicle, and that was at Costco!).

 

Again, glad you're doing this and hope you have a ton of fun doing it!

Jim R.



#11 Skylook123

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 08:18 PM

This might get to you too late to help, but I want to chime in with the other excellent comments above and say "Way to Go" in sharing your time and knowledge. I have a  couple of personal thoughts based on enjoying the heck out of public outreach for almost 25 years.

 

The best observation I ever heard about doing outreach has really stuck  with me for  over a decade.  "You never know what life you'll touch, or might touch you."  What I get back  from the visitors is a tremendous feeling of well being, having helped broaden their environmental awareness and introduced them to their home universe.  Some of my younger visitors over the decades have gone home and started science clubs at their schools, and even become science teachers.   I've done some sessions for families of kids with cancer, who, because of one night under the stars, felt a connection to something bigger than themselves.  And I've participated in some events at a drug rehabilitation facility and learned to tell some life-affirming stories about constellations and asterisms, which seemed to bring a bit of peace to the participants.

 

Introduce them to your time machine, because most of what they'll see happened quite a while ago.  As much as you try to prevent it, don't freak out too much when an eyepiece is grabbed.  It WILL happen.  Humans want to bring information or food TO their head.  Just keep repeating every half dozen visitors to your scope, "Look with your eyes, not with your hands."

 

If you do have a  smart phone app than can provide answers, great; saying you don't know is fine, and tell them you'll have to check it.  Maybe even tell them they now have homework and challenge them to also look it up for themselves at home.

 

Most of all, have fun with it.  Maybe, like mine, your life will be the one that's touched by the experience.



#12 jimr2

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:39 AM

Skylook123,

While I'm not the topic starter here, I want to thank you too for all your 25 years of public outreach--I do what I can here re that--and thank you especially for your eloquent observations and great outcomes w/ some of your former "visitors" who went on to become science teachers, etc--I can't think of a better outcome than that! I can only wish that some of my former younger visitors were so affected by their look thru any of my scopes that moved them to become science teachers, or scientists, etc! Again, great "work" and thanks for sharing some of your stories w/ the rest of us! Very inspiring! Keep up the good work!

-Jim-

#13 caveman_astronomer

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 04:21 AM

"How many times is this?"   (They are asking about magnification.)

 

"Have you seen any UFOs?" Or aliens, or flag on the moon, etc.  A good answer is "No, I haven't."


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#14 sg6

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 08:21 AM

The two I get are:

How do you find Polaris?

How do you find the Andromeda galaxy? Take binoculars as it is easier to find and see in them.

 

That is about 85% taken care of. (Honest those 2 questions are the main ones, usually 3 times a night for each)

 

Know a few constellations to indicate and talk of, have an idea of getting from one constellation to another - pointers point up to Polaris but they also point down to Leo. The handle of the dipper arc's round to Arcturus. Orions belt points up to Aldebaren and the Hyades then carry on to the Pleiades. It points down to Sirius. You will need to find and so know Andromeda for the "Where is the Andromeda galaxy" question.

 

Cassiopeia to Andromeda, Cass to Perseus (double cluster half way between (binoculars again useful).

 

If they ask more they likely know the answer and are wondering if you do.

 

Don't get in a arguement about things not directly related to showing people the sky and simple explanations. Act dumb and maybe say that whatever is outside of what you are there for. Acting dumb I find easy, very, very easy. Look lost, look puzzled, comment Don't know, never thought about it and get back to the astronomy outreach (fast). Find an innocent child and ask Is there anything you want to ask or that I can help you with?

 

A GLP is very useful, check if allowed or acceptable to take one, if you have one.


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#15 jimr2

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:12 PM

Yeah, the power (magnification) question comes up fairly often too--had forgotten that one. They'll ask "What's the power/magnification/times of this scope?" So at that point, you have to explain something along the lines that "Well the scope itself does not have any magnification, but it does when used w/ eyepieces, and eyepieces--pointing to the eyepiece in the scope--come in different "sizes" or focal lengths, and you get the power/magnification of the scope and eyepiece combination by dividing the focal length of the scope by the f.l. of the eyepiece you're using, in millimeters, so that when using the eyepiece we have in the scope now, which is xx mm, when we divide that into this scope's f.l. of xxx mm, you get a  power/magnification of 120X (or whatever). That explanation works ok for adults and older children but for much younger viewers, you could just say that the power of the scope depends on which eyepiece I use, and right now w/ this eyepiece, we have about xxx power, and let it go at that.

 

And yeah, also get the question about have you seen anything strange or UFOs in the sky, and/or can you see the Apollo landing sites on the Moon, to which I also just reply No, and No (Apollo sites too small to be seen from Earth...).



#16 MG1692

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:28 PM

"How many times is this?"   (They are asking about magnification.)

 

"Have you seen any UFOs?" Or aliens, or flag on the moon, etc.  A good answer is "No, I haven't."

There is also the sub queston "Are there any aliens out there" This has to be the one universal question I have gotten during out reach

 

And prize for the cutest: A young girl 7 maybe 8 once asked what stopped Saturn from falling out from between the rings


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#17 caveman_astronomer

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 03:51 PM

 

"How many times is this?"   (They are asking about magnification.)

 

"Have you seen any UFOs?" Or aliens, or flag on the moon, etc.  A good answer is "No, I haven't."

There is also the sub queston "Are there any aliens out there" This has to be the one universal question I have gotten during out reach

 

And prize for the cutest: A young girl 7 maybe 8 once asked what stopped Saturn from falling out from between the rings

 

For the alien question, the only logical response is "I don't know" or "What do you think?"


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#18 MG1692

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 05:43 PM

 

 

"How many times is this?"   (They are asking about magnification.)

 

"Have you seen any UFOs?" Or aliens, or flag on the moon, etc.  A good answer is "No, I haven't."

There is also the sub queston "Are there any aliens out there" This has to be the one universal question I have gotten during out reach

 

And prize for the cutest: A young girl 7 maybe 8 once asked what stopped Saturn from falling out from between the rings

 

For the alien question, the only logical response is "I don't know" or "What do you think?"

 

No no no - Never ask someone what do you think when answering a question about aliens or UFOs lol. You can kiss the rest of the night away right there :)


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#19 csrlice12

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Posted 30 November 2017 - 12:22 AM

Where's the bathroom?


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#20 skyguy88

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Posted 30 November 2017 - 12:57 AM

A good way to deepen and enrich your understanding of Astronomy is to read, "Archives of the Universe", by Marcia Bartusiak. (Amazon paperback, ~$18). It traces the development of the Science from ancient Mayans. Many of the important papers are included. It's fun to read the papers in the language of the day. It helped me to get comfortable with the main themes.

 

Put together a commentary about each of the objects that you expect to show.

     

     General features of clusters, globulars and open clusters, positions of globular clusters with respect to the galaxy, importance of globular clusters as laboratories in which all of the stars are at the       same distance from us and the same age, the extreme ages of globulars.

 

     If you are doing Orion, talk about emission nebulae, the star formation story, how long stars live, the importance of their masses.

 

     ......and then expect questions completely off your topic.smile.gif Anything that you can't answer well, you'll know by the next time. 

 

Bill


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#21 Skylook123

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Posted 30 November 2017 - 01:36 AM

Skylook123,

While I'm not the topic starter here, I want to thank you too for all your 25 years of public outreach--I do what I can here re that--and thank you especially for your eloquent observations and great outcomes w/ some of your former "visitors" who went on to become science teachers, etc--I can't think of a better outcome than that! I can only wish that some of my former younger visitors were so affected by their look thru any of my scopes that moved them to become science teachers, or scientists, etc! Again, great "work" and thanks for sharing some of your stories w/ the rest of us! Very inspiring! Keep up the good work!

-Jim-

Thanks, Jim.  I just had to go into outreach; observing alone was like it didn't happen.  The secret is, I get so much back from the visitors.

 

And MG1692, really good call to be wary of asking what the visitor thinks.  Right up there with, if doing an event at a school. delaying the first use of the green laser.  You immediately lose all the adolescent boys once that magic beam comes out. 


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#22 caveman_astronomer

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Posted 30 November 2017 - 02:55 AM

 

 

 

"How many times is this?"   (They are asking about magnification.)

 

"Have you seen any UFOs?" Or aliens, or flag on the moon, etc.  A good answer is "No, I haven't."

There is also the sub queston "Are there any aliens out there" This has to be the one universal question I have gotten during out reach

 

And prize for the cutest: A young girl 7 maybe 8 once asked what stopped Saturn from falling out from between the rings

 

For the alien question, the only logical response is "I don't know" or "What do you think?"

 

No no no - Never ask someone what do you think when answering a question about aliens or UFOs lol. You can kiss the rest of the night away right there smile.gif

 

The question you are asking back is:

 

What do you think (are there any aliens out there, yes or no?)

 

Then let them do the talking.  Attend to the next person in line.



#23 Nick K.

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 04:30 PM

Pika_jime.  It has been some time since you started this thread but I would be interested in knowing how the evening turned out.  What kind of questions did you get?  How many people looked through the scope?  What would you now do differently?

 

I also served as a volunteer presenter at a private observatory.  It was an absolutely wonderful experience.  You never knew what was going to be asked but, as recommended here, don't hesitate to say you don't know the answer to that question.  I learned something every time I was host to a group, and I prepared in advance to learn as much as I could about what we might be seeing through the big telescope that evening.  I wasn't an expert, never got to be an expert, never acted like an expert.  But I did learn to project my enthusiasm for looking at the heavens without dancing from left to right in front of the telescope (private joke among us volunteers).

 

I hope that you re-visit this thread and share your experience with us.  Thanks.



#24 nickcodybarrett

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 10:47 PM

"is the earth flat or round?"

 

The answer is: Yes


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#25 gfstallin

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Posted 13 February 2018 - 04:21 PM

I made the mistake of telling first grade students that we think that the moon is just a little bit younger than the Earth. This elicited the question from one student "Did you know my daddy taught my mommy in school?"

 

The true and correct answer to that question was "No, I did not." I then had to turn my back to the class immediately while I pretended to adjust things on the mount. This gave me precious moments to hide my laughter and wipe away the tears rolling down my cheeks. I'm pretty sure I was beet red once I was finished "fixing" the mount, which amounted to tightening and loosening the RA clutch about ten times. Afterwards, I did inquire with the teacher whether she knew more about that nugget of a question. She noted that the student's parents met when his father was working on his post doc, and his mother was one of his father's grad students, about three years his junior. Apparently the student often liked to bring up this and other subjects he sensed could be uncomfortable. 

 

All this to say, you can be stumped by a first grader. 

 

George


Edited by gfstallin, 13 February 2018 - 04:23 PM.

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