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No youngsters, is there an answer to this problem? (faced by all astronomers)

clubs DIY mirror making observing outreach star party
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#1 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 02:32 PM

I found quoted text below in an email that was in my inbox this morning. It came from a nearby Astronomy Club and they meet every month in a xxxx(hall). I have anonymized the quoted text below for obvious reasons. 

 

"Star Gazers...we need to take a serious assessment of our organization and the very low prospects of improving our current status.

Facts...

1) our membership is down and is growing older...we just have not attracted any young people in years
2) our meeting attendance is down and decreases every month
3) our meeting place, the xxxxxx, has increased the cost of our per meeting use of the xxxxx(hall)
4) our sky observing has diminished drastically in recent years

So...maybe it is time to face what appears to be inevitable...closing the doors on xxxxxx Star Gazers...

Please respond with suggestions...for or against...we need to have a viable path to growth or make the difficult decision...thanks for you attention to this very important matter."

 

I am a member of a couple of astronomy clubs and each is facing the same exact problem described in this email above. So I am sure that we, the general amateur astronomy community has been facing this problem. 

 

I, on my part, have been holding outreach events at my granddaughter's elementary school. My intention has been to attract young kids to get interested in astronomy. Attendance has been good at times but not always. The best was Great American Solar Eclipse when it was a community picnic like and we had between 500 to 800 with a fabulously festive atmosphere. The reasons for poor attendance during regular stargazing events could be as follows:

  • light pollution is causing impossible to see any stars in the sky and people come expecting to see much more but get disappointed 
  • easy access to Internet is making kids be more interested in other activities made available on the Internet (I am guessing because when I was a kid there was no Internet and not much on the TV either. That left me looking up at the sky on most nights and hooked me on to astronomy)
  • science and astronomy is not considered glamorous by today's young generation
  • Internet and media in general has too many colorful photos taken by Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories or organizations which look very impressive while the view through an amateur astronomer's telescope is obviously boring, colorless and dim. Kids are unimpressed, I assume.   
  • There could be many more reasons (please feel free to add)

In case of both my clubs, most members I meet are not youngsters. Most are in my age group. Years ago, I got into ATM activity but today ATM is not popular among members of my local club. Who wants to push glass for months when it is possible to buy a cheap/affordable telescope that is made in China. The clubs are also facing the light pollution problems. The skies around me are Bortle class 8 or worse. I do see planets and the moon at night but not many stars in the sky. Nearest dark sky spot is Cherry Springs State Park, about 6 hours by road trip for me. I do it sometimes, may be just once in a year, but barely. Both my clubs hold regular outreach events but that has not created any growth. People do attend but they simply go home after that. 

 

Is this the future of amateur astronomy? 

 

 


 

#2 mashirts

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 02:55 PM

So the glass is half empty in regards to developing interest in astronomy?
 

#3 russell23

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:20 PM

15 years ago the Astronomy elective class I taught in my school had 40 students a year sign up. Then the school cancelled the class (for reasons that had nothing to do with student interest) and when I finally got them to bring it back 2 years ago I have had 8 students, 6 students, and 6 students sign up. The students don't seem as interested as they used to. Maybe there is a way to spark their interest with a phone app because they live their phones.
 

#4 bobzeq25

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:21 PM

Consider Electronically Assisted Astronomy.


 

#5 kathyastro

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:54 PM

Most young people are not even aware that the night sky exists.  If they can even tear themselves away from their phones and go outside at night, there is nothing but an orange glow where the sky used to be.


 

#6 wrvond

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:54 PM

If attendance/membership of astronomy clubs and astronomy classes are evaporating, I have to wonder - what is happening in the astronomy related careers?

I'd like to hear some of our professionals chime in with their observations concerning the next crops of astrophysicists or cosmologists. Is the field of professional astronomy changing focus from physical observing to other, more esoteric methods, moving away from observatories and into laboratories or think tanks?

Perhaps today's youth isn't interested in owning a telescope and sitting outside at night freezing or fighting mosquitoes. Instead of clubs, perhaps we need astronomy networks. Publicly accessible remote controlled telescopes with online training courses in astronomy.

Would kids pay for online astronomy classes in virtual classrooms that included access to remote controlled telescopes?


 

#7 bobruben

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:59 PM

 

Internet and media in general has too many colorful photos taken by Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories or organizations which look very impressive while the view through an amateur astronomer's telescope is obviously boring, colorless and dim. Kids are unimpressed, I assume.

Kids (and adults) who do show up at our clubs public sessions are impressed, at the planets, and the moon. You hear wows! The Owl nebula, maybe not so much.

 

I think EAA will blossom, everybody has their eyes glued to screens anyhow.

 

If clubs want to survive, they may need to change.


 

#8 Neptune

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 04:01 PM

This is a tough nut to crack. Being 58 years old and getting into observing when as a youngster of 16, I find you are correct about other influences that provide greater stimulation than peering through a telescope eyepiece.  Just as 'Video killed the Radio Star', Video Games are killing our youth in more ways than one ( I have to young boys, I got a very late start on family).  All my boys want to do if given the choice is play on their Xbox (brand of video game console).  My youngest (age 8) will on occasion come out and take a quick peek at the planets if they are visible.  I think my oldest (age 12) will ONLY do so as a ploy to avoid bed time.

 

When I lived in AZ, our club was doing OK. Then again, I feel AZ was/is a hot bed for amateur and professional astronomers alike. Since moving to GA, I miss the AZ lecturers that would visit our Gilbert, AZ club. World class professional Astronomers, visionaries and doers. I heard and saw some of the best lectures on everything from the James Web Space telescope to timing occultations to Behind the scenes info on the mars rover.

 

All my life I have wanted to design and build a unique telescope, similar to the one Donald Dilworth made back in the later 1970's.  It's is very hard to find a club now a days, that has the people with the know how to do ATMing.  It's a shame, because in the past we had some great individuals such as John Dobson, Mel Bartels, Dennis Rech, Edward Byers, Tom Johnson to name a few. 

 

The hope is that everything is cyclical. Amateur Astronomy will ebb and flow, be in favor, fall out of favor.  I think all one can do is share the hobby with exuberance and no pressure, just share the joy of looking up at the glory of the heavens, after all it was made for all our enjoyment and wonderment.

 

David Standen 


 

#9 Starman1

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 04:33 PM

You must have missed this long thread on the same subject matter:

https://www.cloudyni...ng-astronomers/


 

#10 AaronF

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 04:35 PM

There are many reasons why this could be. But let me just pick one: the internet.

 

Before the internet you would join a club to meet people of a similar interest. You'd probably subscribe to one or two magazines as well.

 

With the internet there's now very little need to join a club or buy magazines. So what you get are the people who want to be there.

And the people who want to be there are mainly the people who grew up going to clubs, not the people who grew up finding all their information online.

 

Don't see it as a reduction in interest in astronomy. Only in going to astronomy clubs.


 

#11 grif 678

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:07 PM

The kids now have a device in their hands, all of them do, that all they have to do is exercise their fingers, and can see any object in the sky on their phones better than in any scope. As lazy as our society is becoming, why would a kid want to go out and spend their time looking through a telescope, and not see anything as great as they appear on their phone or computers. As mentioned before in another thread, all the excitement of alien life, UFO's, and other science fiction movies that stirred our imagination is not there anymore. Technology is a good thing in some aspects, but it also takes over the imagination of our kids, leaving nothing for their imagination. And even now as I know better about the things that stirred my imagination as a kid, I still want to get out and view and remember the good times that my scopes have given me.

The excitement of the night sky that we knew as kids is no longer there, most of the questions have been answered. It is like the Dennis the Menace episode called, "Innocents in Space", when Mr Wilson wanted to tell the young boys the truth about space travel etc, and was arguing with the TV space man who came to Dennis's house. Then when Mr Wilson saw the excitement in the eyes of the boys, how they were just chopping at the bit to hear about the trip to Saturn he saw that he needed to leave it alone, and let the boy's imagination keep going. Now that is what our kids are missing. that is why astronomy clubs are dwindling for kids.


 

#12 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:15 PM

Most young people are not even aware that the night sky exists.  If they can even tear themselves away from their phones and go outside at night, there is nothing but an orange glow where the sky used to be.

100% right. That's the way kids are today.


 

#13 sg6

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:18 PM

Attitude.

Seen too many saying if you haven't got a $2000 setup you have nothing worth looking through.

Apparently a 70mm scope is not worth it either now.

 

Clubs do seem to try to be elitist and that drives people away.

Don't assume big scope impress, they mean little to many people. Often considered out of reach and/or impractical. Our 16" gets few people, the small 70's and 80's a lot. And people start at 60/70/80mm not at the ones thrown around here.

 

Club I attend is somewhat child orientated. They are welcome, fingers on glass is just a by product - well not the front but certainly the rear. Reminder to self - Need to clean the 12mm eyepiece.

 

Had a new family comment about the number of children in attendance, surprised at the number there. One 5-6 year old brings her mother, the 5-6 year old just wants to look at stars. Not bothered by which stars less interested in the scope or eyepiece. Just wants to see stars. Those 2 have been coming for the last 2 years.

 

But if the attitude is "I am not letting a 5 year old near my equipment." then I would say the club will fail. May take 10 years. They will not feel welcome and the parents will not bring them.

 

Organise a kids night. Adults only if accompanied by a child. Mini doughnuts supplied help.

Make 200% sure any child see whatever the scope is aimed at - get them to describe whatever it is. That way you are reasonably sure they have seen the target. It is not a case of "Have you looked?" it is a case of "Have you seen?". Subtle difference but important. But spend the time. They are likely your clubs future.

 

Show one or two how to use the goto controls - that is a scary thought isn't it. Have done it, scope still functions. Lad wanted to see a particular star, so gave him the handset and talked him through it. And the star was in the view.

 

Also some of the little whatsits know a lot. Some know more then many here on CN. And they are happy to ask so you have to have answers. When one asks you answer and do not fob them off.

 

Kids and mobiles are a bit odd. Yes they have one, but oddly it is adults I see with their head down in a modile not actually so much the kids. The kids at the observing nights do not have phones in their hands, the parents do, not the kids. Past a cafe today and saw a couple, the man was on his phone texting, she was looking bored. Do not not make assumptions.


 

#14 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:18 PM

You must have missed this long thread on the same subject matter:

https://www.cloudyni...ng-astronomers/

Obvious that I did miss it. The question however remains. What is it that we can do to change the "world"? 


 

#15 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:36 PM

Consider Electronically Assisted Astronomy.

I think that is exactly what is happening, on their Internet connected devices.. Not through telescopes, though. 


 

#16 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:38 PM

15 years ago the Astronomy elective class I taught in my school had 40 students a year sign up. Then the school cancelled the class (for reasons that had nothing to do with student interest) and when I finally got them to bring it back 2 years ago I have had 8 students, 6 students, and 6 students sign up. The students don't seem as interested as they used to. Maybe there is a way to spark their interest with a phone app because they live their phones.

Way to spark their interest with a phone app? There are too many app's but there is nothing in the sky other than glow from city lights... 


 

#17 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 05:47 PM

If attendance/membership of astronomy clubs and astronomy classes are evaporating, I have to wonder - what is happening in the astronomy related careers?

I'd like to hear some of our professionals chime in with their observations concerning the next crops of astrophysicists or cosmologists. Is the field of professional astronomy changing focus from physical observing to other, more esoteric methods, moving away from observatories and into laboratories or think tanks?

Perhaps today's youth isn't interested in owning a telescope and sitting outside at night freezing or fighting mosquitoes. Instead of clubs, perhaps we need astronomy networks. Publicly accessible remote controlled telescopes with online training courses in astronomy.

Would kids pay for online astronomy classes in virtual classrooms that included access to remote controlled telescopes?

I am not aware of loss of interest in astronomy classes. I was only looking at no participation of youngsters in astronomy clubs and/or observing the sky. Internet and light pollution are at the top of the list of causes. I think students are still joining courses at college level. This may change slowly as universities begin offering courses on-line. They make more money without having to make the students come all the way to the schools. I think, with so many telescopes having gone online, people at the Universities may find it more convenient to enroll students into research using remote observing. It should become an exciting field. 

 

However, as I said, it is the field of amateur astronomy that is affected.  


 

#18 Starman1

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 06:07 PM

Today's "clubs" are on-line chat forums like CloudyNights.com.

The majority of observers have always been loners, and typically the wealthy, the clergy, the retired.

Because they have the time to pursue the hobby, in general.

There may always be a certain number of self-propelled astronomy nerds entering the hobby,

but they may not join a club or go to star parties,

Here is a poll taken only a couple years back:

Note the participation in clubs, the average age, the **** of the participants.

Demographically, it agrees with just about every other poll I've seen.

https://awesome-tabl...STgzeSosiT/view

 

How much outreach affects the desire to buy a scope and start observing is a question.

I have many astronomy friends, and none of us entered the hobby because of outreach--we were all self-motivated to do so.

How much light pollution affects the desire to buy a scope and start observing is not a question--it hurts tremendously.

Read that other thread from one end to the other.  There are digressions, but a lot of good points made.


 

#19 Prasad

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 07:11 PM

Today's "clubs" are on-line chat forums like CloudyNights.com.

The majority of observers have always been loners, and typically the wealthy, the clergy, the retired.

Because they have the time to pursue the hobby, in general.

There may always be a certain number of self-propelled astronomy nerds entering the hobby,

but they may not join a club or go to star parties,

Here is a poll taken only a couple years back:

Note the participation in clubs, the average age, the **** of the participants.

Demographically, it agrees with just about every other poll I've seen.

https://awesome-tabl...STgzeSosiT/view

 

How much outreach affects the desire to buy a scope and start observing is a question.

I have many astronomy friends, and none of us entered the hobby because of outreach--we were all self-motivated to do so.

How much light pollution affects the desire to buy a scope and start observing is not a question--it hurts tremendously.

Read that other thread from one end to the other.  There are digressions, but a lot of good points made.

Don

 

You make sense. In addition to CN I notice Facebook is a major platform where I see people interacting from around the world. A club is local but Internet brings the world together. Of course we do see a lot of nonsense. Most of us will be able to filter it out but I am not sure if the youngsters can. Thanks for that chart. Do I have your permission to share it with my local club? 


 

#20 spereira

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 09:07 PM

There is already a topic about this subject: Why Aren't There More Young Astronomers?

Please feel free to continue the discussion there.

 

smp


 


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