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School outreach with young kids

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#1 Freezout

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 07:01 AM

A couple of days ago during a presentation of the school where my kid (soon 5 years old) studies, the managers told us that they were looking for after-school activities coming from parents (dance, music... whatever).

 

You guess what came through my mind immediately.

 

So I proposed to the school an event where the kids could look at the sky with the telescope of the dad (me). For now it's just an idea I launched.

I have some outreach experience with family, neighbors, friends. I think I have a good idea of what targets works or not, taking also into account that there will be some light around. It will have to be in the winter due to sunset time here, so I will ask to keep flexible dates (useless to come with the telescope with cloud cover).

 

Looking at sky simulations, I selected the middle of November, December or January where the Moon (half), Saturn and Jupiter are high enough in a proper direction. That should ensure the show.

Should the event last longer than expected, some last survivor stay and wanting more, I could eventually show Andromeda Galaxy or something else.

It will be me and my Mak.

 

The checklist I made for now...

- plan visibility of objects, come a couple of days before to check no building blocking the view etc

- prepare answers to the unavoidable questions "how far is the Moon", "how far can you see with the telescope", "how big is Jupiter" etc   

- Put fragile gear in a safe zone

- Bring something so that kids can be at correct height and if possible have something else than the eyepiece to grab

- I usually never use my dew heater due to insulation of my telescope, but due to winter weather, check if it still works  

 

Do you see anything I would miss?

 

 


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#2 Nankins

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 07:11 AM

Tell kids and parents, etc please don't touch the scope. I just tell them that, works every time!
Maybe also add Albireo to the list if you do it in November. Pleases viewers just as much as the planets.
Definitely be prepared to answer questions and have some fun scientific facts about space, astronomy, and each object that will interest people.
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#3 Tangerman

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 07:14 AM

Provide a clipboard, pencils, and a paper with a circle on it so they can draw the moon more easily. Or just paper and let them draw the moon. 


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#4 afd33

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 07:47 AM

Nothing beats looking through the eyepiece, but EAA is great for outreach because more than one person can see at a time. Plus, in the winter time, you can stay indoors where it’s nice and warm.

I’ve never really done it, but there are people who stream photography and EAA on twitch. The better ones set a webcam to show the telescope, a camera to show the sky, and of course another view of whatever’s in view of the telescope.
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#5 Mark Strollo

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 07:55 AM

Check out the NASA Night Sky Network outreach page. 
https://nightsky.jpl...wnload-list.cfm

There’s a section on astronomy for the very young. 


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#6 astrohamp

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 01:38 PM

Freez' you are well on your way good for you!

 

Best to have an adult helper (another astro nerd?) with you on site for crowd control at least.  A second or third telescope would be a good thing.  Tracking scope is nice for a planet, moon, or other big object, and can be left unattended  (kind of).  I put a two-step stool with a hoop up top for kids (and adults) to grab hold of for a look see.
A push too small dob (and operator) pulls in those ooohs and aaahs for eyepiece views.

 

Did I mention that having more then one scope/operator is a good thing?

Just did a youngling outreach two nights ago and it was all I could do to cordon/block off my EAA set up to keep  the enthusiastic from crawling through, tripping over, finger printing, being knocked down by my "robot" telescope.  I will admit that I felt sad that I had to say "no eyepiece to look though, just a camera"...but when I turned on the 21" color monitor as a second screen the Ring (I mean Bagel) Nebula was a big hit.  Even as tiny as it was.  I tried to show 'live' images with some color, the Veil, Trifid, finally M81/82 galaxies. The three other scopes were on target with a big globular clusters, Saturn, and the like, especially with some magnification.

 

Live EAA (outdoors) with 35-50 kids is NOT for the faint of heart and I couldn't do it without other 'push too' telescopes taking up my slack.  Once up and running even showing the sky 'roadmap' planetarium screen on the control laptop is rewarding.  Multiple (eye level as I am seated on a low stool) kids faces see the constellation patterns and can look up to find where the telescope is pointing.  Some kids like to see the control panel, and even watch me center calibration target stars as early on the camera sees them before my eyes anyway can, right after sunset.

 

Just having constellation hand outs for each visitor supplies a doable task.  Print the named star pattern only with identifiable stick lines included on hand out papers.   Have each locate their pattern while they wait in turn at the eyepiece.   No 'easy', 'hard'... labels and try to make sure everyone finds their pattern in the sky.

 

Folks do want to look through an eyepiece so EAA exclusive just doesn't quite fit expectations, yet if conditions dictate indoors only it certainly can fill a space...

Good luck.


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#7 PolyWogg

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 03:49 PM

Some thoughts for you:

 

- I like constellation options for people waiting in line to look, gives them something to do (although helps if you have other bodies to assist). 

 

- Your challenge will be "scheduling" your queuing in a sense, which is that you have two general options...#1 you show the moon, everyone goes through, done...then you go through and show Saturn, everyone goes through the line again, etc. OR #2 you show a group of 3-4 the MOON and then SATURN, they move on, you show the next group SATURN and then the MOON, they move on, etc. This isn't unique to kids. But people will come through with parents and often they want to do "ONE QUEUE, SEE EVERYTHING" but then you're doing lots of movement of scope to show different objects, etc. Very time-consuming for you for each "group". No right answer, up to you to decide what you're "offering". I like to have them look at the moon, see mountains, go wow, and then ask them to look again for something specific to find and give them the name. But while you're telling them what to look for, they "find" it, giving them a sense of accomplishment.  Could be crater that is as wide as your town, or a rille that was visited by Apollo X, etc.

 

- For your "don't touch with hands", the best idea I've seen is to tell them to put their hands behind their backs or on their hips, rather than "don't touch". People don't simply touch because they WANT TO TOUCH, they touch because it's instinct to try and steady themselves or the scope. If you don't give them something to do with their hands, they tend to forget and unconsciously reach. A friend likes to give them a ball to hold. :)

 

- Last but not least, safety is a bit more complicated than just having a step stool. Double check if your school has any rules like all guests must have safety check from police. Many schools do have such a rule, and you need time for it to clear if you don't have it already. Equally, remind yourself that under no circumstances are you going to reach out and just lift someone up. It is a bad scene in any environment to touch someone else's kid without permission, even if it is helping them stand still on the stool. You have no idea if a) the parent is angry Kevin/Karen who is very paranoid about it (legitimately or otherwise) or b) the kid is sensitive to anyone touching them. Make sure you always ask, and avoid it if you can in the first place. You're a nice parent, sure, but nobody else knows that for sure.

 

I know it sounds like I'm overreacting in advance, but the whole point is to give people a safe space to learn about space in a good experience. If they or their parent feels "icky" for any reason, that experience is NOT what you were striving for. 

 

Some hard lessons from some outreach elsewhere, curated by a number of people doing outreach in multiple locations, including schools.


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#8 Freezout

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 04:54 PM

Here I am back from a double stars session on my terrace...

 

Thanks a lot guys. Lot of nice advice.

 

Astrohamp: I expect to have anyway some teachers with me for crowd control, and maybe my brother in law who owns a small newtonian, but no idea if he will be able to participate that day (I still didn't speak to him about my project...).

 

I own such ladder as you describe and I intended to use it. I had been reading a similar advice in the Outreach forum, kids can step on it to look at the eyepiece and hold the hoop indeed.

Printing star patterns is an excellent idea, maybe also some Moon/planets drawings to color. To discuss with the teachers.

 

PolyWogg: I intend to make first Moon for everybody, then Saturn, then Jupiter. I have no idea how many kids will show up. I need to see with the school what will be the target. There are lots of classes in this school. 

My mount is not an EQ one so I would have to adjust often the FOV. Sometimes just by turning the Az knob without looking, not to lose too much time. 

 

The no touching without asking is very relevant and unfortunately not overreacting. Our crazy world is such that tension from some parents would be understandable. I would not lift a kid on a ladder without asking also.

 

I'll continue preparing this...



#9 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 08 September 2023 - 05:18 PM

Young kids love observing the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and double colorful stars like Albireo or Almach.

 

They also love to observe single stars and compare their colours, for example Procyon (yellow) vs Aldebaran (orange) vs Sirius (light blue).

Open clusters like Pleiades, the Beehive and Coma Berenices cluster are a success as well.

 

You may show them a globular cluster on a large enough telescope (10"), so they can resolve it.

 

Most of the time, kids are deceived by galaxies. They expect something like Star Wars and they get a barely visible faint smudge.

Even M31 gets a "bof... meh..., what's next ?"

 

Kids are very interested in solar observation, I personally prefer to use H-Alpha telescopes (to prevent the risk of filters falling down to the ground) 


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#10 SporadicGazer

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Posted 10 September 2023 - 01:05 AM

  ...  I put a two-step stool with a hoop up top for kids (and adults) to grab hold of for a look see.  ...

+1

 

  ...  For your "don't touch with hands", the best idea I've seen is to tell them to put their hands behind their backs or on their hips, rather than "don't touch". People don't simply touch because they WANT TO TOUCH, they touch because it's instinct to try and steady themselves or the scope. If you don't give them something to do with their hands, they tend to forget and unconsciously reach. A friend likes to give them a ball to hold. smile.gif  ...

The key is they want to steady themselves.  The local club uses Starbound-style chairs oriented backwards (straddle style) and tells people to grab and hold the top.  They can then stand leaning forward, sit, or for small children kneel on the seat.

 

I was cheap and got a step-stool with a back for personal outreach.  I find it works great, (even me when I'm alone.)  E.g:

 

https://www.homedepo...S-3-2/310833692

 

(The... erh... vendor has lowered the price since I got mine. frown.gif )

 

At least if you're on firm level ground, it is very sturdy and provides steps for smaller visitors to get up to eyepiece height.
 


Edited by SporadicGazer, 10 September 2023 - 01:06 AM.


#11 SporadicGazer

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Posted 10 September 2023 - 01:22 AM

  ... Kids are very interested in solar observation, I personally prefer to use H-Alpha telescopes (to prevent the risk of filters falling down to the ground) 

H-alpha is great, if you are already equipped!

 

If you have to purchase something to provide the experience a Hershel wedge would also be more secure than a front filter and cheaper than H-alpha.  (And far more elegant than rolls of duct tape! smile.gif )

 

BTW- If you go with a wedge, practice first so you can tune the additional comfort filters, whether Polarizer, ND filter(s), and/or color filter (e.g. Baader Continuum, green, yellow-green, or red to narrow the bandpass and limit effects of poor seeing.)  Unless you have a wide selection of filters on hand, have expert advice on exactly your setup, or get lucky this can be surprisingly... irritating.  (Don't ask!)


Edited by SporadicGazer, 10 September 2023 - 01:41 AM.

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#12 jgraham

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Posted 10 September 2023 - 02:18 PM

You’ve checked most of the boxes. We do a lot of outreach events for our local schools. We try to keep the target list bright and simple. My wife (retired preschool teacher) helps with the kids at the scope. We use a small, 3-step ladder to get them to the right height and provide something to hold on to. When we only have a couple of scopes we try to have at least one _big_ scope for the wow factor. If we have several scopes we’ll add one EAA system. The EAA is always popular, makes a nice companion to the visual scopes, and it perfect for children who are too young to look through a scope. For these little people we use a small LED monitor (Revolution Imager 2) clamped to a small table and a big magnifying glass that is perfect for little hands.

 

Enjoy!



#13 Freezout

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Posted 10 October 2023 - 07:51 AM

I had been indicating to the teacher that dates would be a whole thing to pick up, because it's needed to have the proper targets (Moon with a terminator, Saturn and Jupiter) at the correct place to observe them from the school yard, at a given time. Using online planetarium (The SkyLive) I simulated several dates and we ended up proposing 4 evenings to which the kids can register, 2 in December and 2 in January.

The notice was put online on the school announcement app on an evening, and the day after all the sessions were overbooked, with need to organize a draw for participants. There will be 10 kids per session, plus parents of course. 

Upon reserve that the sky cooperates!

 

I will start to prepare activities such as color drawings etc, sky maps, and also searching for a used EQ mount with a RA motor to avoid re-adjusting the FOV between every participant like I have to do now with my Altaz.


Edited by Freezout, 10 October 2023 - 07:52 AM.

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#14 Scott123

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Posted 11 October 2023 - 02:41 PM

I'm planning a star party at the local school next month, due to my work schedule it has to happen during the dark of the Moon. I'll have good views of Jupiter and Sturn, anyway.

 

One thing we're doing; The local PTA will be selling hot cocoa and snacks. I think this is great, but I and my helper will be alert for anyone approaching the scopes with food and drink in hand.

 

Does anyone wipe down the eyepieces between viewings?



#15 maroubra_boy

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Posted 11 October 2023 - 03:18 PM

Scott,

Having the teachers involved here is most important. I have done several events with kids as young as kindy. One event was also themed as "Pizza & Planets", & many other events when hot food & drinks were around.

You need to be adamant that attendees not bring food & drink out to the scopes & that they wash their hands before heading out to the scopes. THIS is the role the teachers need to undertake, to make sure kids & adults do this. Don't think you are alone in this. The teachers are there to monitor the kids & to assist you as they can. They want this to go well too.

WIPES

Wipes are very inefficient, problematic & time consuming.

If you do this for infection control - does not work (disinfection depends on concentration & time exposure to chemicals, which wipes do not offer), & the chemicals can cause degradation of rubber components & even leak in to the eyepiece, & leave streaks. "Disinfection wipes" are not designed for optical gear.

If this is to clean between viewers, same issue with leaking & rubber, but more so it is time consuming to do effectively & make sure the eyelens is clean & dry. You would be better off staying close to the viewer, quietly talking to them as they approach the eyepiece for the first time explaining how to look through it & watch that they don't grab for the eyepiece. If fingers do go on the eyelens, then you can quickly check and decide if a clean is necessary.

Barking out instructions once at the start of the event on how to look through the scope & not grab the scope does not work. More effective is investing time with each person with quiet instructions as they approach the scope for the first time. You can see if each person is doing things correctly or if they need help. It makes all of this a more intimate experience & allows them to concentrate on what needs to be done & not be caught up with the excitement of the crowd. You will find the eyepiece is soiled way less than you think. When they come around for a second view, they will know the drill & this will also benefit any other scopes out on the field too. You are investing a little time & effort in the quality of the experience of the attendees AND in the safety of your gear this way.

Alex

Edited by maroubra_boy, 11 October 2023 - 03:27 PM.

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#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 12 October 2023 - 05:02 AM

My two cents:

 

Prior to COVID, I did some out reach at an elementary school.

 

- 5 year olds will probably not get it. It gets progressively better as they get older.

 

- Time management. 20 kids looking at the moon for 2 minutes will take an hour when all is said and done. That's 19 kids with nothing to do for 57 minutes.

 

-Focusing is important. 

 

- Multiple telescopes, multiple stations.

 

Keep it simple

 

Jon


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#17 astrohamp

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Posted 12 October 2023 - 10:07 AM

Freezout: it is so unfortunate you have to lottery out the participation for your outreach event.  Any chance/possibility of adding another 'helper(s)' with/and scope(s) to include more younglings?

 

Scott123:  I try to use an ep with eye cup to help keep a distance, and subdue eye socket collision.

 

I find that having a dim red light to highlight eyepiece location and any grab handle from a well placed hoop stool effective.  Being very dim the light can be left on until head placement and object view is acknowledged by the observer.

 

My last outreach event commencing early dusk (still light out) was presented with model rocketry launches before viewing.  Our host astronomer was fantastic with the combination of launch and 'physics' principles discussion and the kids were all in on the retrieval process down range.  Gave us scope monitors time to set up and align.



#18 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 12 October 2023 - 01:43 PM

Freeze out:

 

What are the chances that the sky will clear in the winter in the Netherlands? 

 

What are your backup plans?

 

It's great that there is so much interest.

 

Jon



#19 Freezout

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Posted 12 October 2023 - 02:03 PM

Hi Jon,

There is no real back up plan for now, the event would just be canceled. It is for now just focused on observation, so I do not see myself giving a course about astronomy for now. I might think about it but it was the reason why we planned 4 evenings. I was thinking to have just one group of kids registered, and have the evenings 2, 3 and 4 used as plan B, C and D, but the school just took participants for the 4 evenings! I still have to sort out how we will organize it... 

 

I have no issue to take the telescope out if it's not a perfect night, as long as I can catch one of the planets or the Moon, if there is no rain risk. It will be better than nothing for these kids.

 

I live in one of the sunniest, if not the sunniest, place of the Netherlands, but it's still the Netherlands!... So it's a real bet. If there is a big interest I might structure something to ensure that interested people can enjoy something, maybe later in the year when clear nights are more probable.


Edited by Freezout, 12 October 2023 - 02:04 PM.

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#20 Freezout

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Posted 28 December 2023 - 04:13 PM

So basically the first 2 nights of outreach (December dates) have been cancelled due to terrible weather, which was extremely disappointing for me because I was getting prepared and excited. But nothing to do against the sky.

 

There are two dates in January and the teacher is asking me to propose new dates for February and March. My question: in order to determinate the hour of start of the event, what amount of darkness shall I require? Civil, Nautical, astronomical twilight official hour? I know the websites to get that data.

 

It is for the months of December and January now quite easy, we indicated 17h30 as start hour because in my city (51deg latitude North) it is anyway really dark at that hour.

For February and March, I am less sure. I will have to propose something to the teacher soon, but right now it's so cloudy (also for next week) that I cannot get a feeling just by comparing real sky outside and twilights data. 

 

Do you have any idea what is safest to use? Thanks!


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#21 billywjackson

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Posted 29 December 2023 - 03:21 PM

When do you normally start your personal observing time? That might be a good place to start. Another option might be to run Stellarium or equivalent ahead to a few dates, and see what time objects of interest might start to be visible.

Sounds like an exciting exercise!

#22 Freezout

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Posted 29 December 2023 - 04:04 PM

Hi Billy, I planned the objects to observe months ago (using The Sky Live), this month should be Saturn (not in an ideal position), Jupiter and the Moon. From experience, planetary is the most efficient especially in a city with lights around.

In February, I might have to trade Saturn for something else (Orion or Andromeda galaxy, maybe a double star).

I didn't observe in winter since a while, and usually never pay attention to what is the official twilight time (I never took notes), I just start to setup or leave to my dark site when the sun starts to set. I am now wondering about it just for planning purposes because I will involve other people, I wouldn't want to schedule too large and have 20 persons waiting too long.


Edited by Freezout, 29 December 2023 - 04:05 PM.


#23 maroubra_boy

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Posted 29 December 2023 - 06:23 PM

Freezeout,

GREAT question!

I would suggest starting with civil as you can start talking about naked eye stuff first & if not quite dark enough, by the time you show Jupiter & Saturn to your audience the sky will be plenty dark.

Planning an outreach event can also allow you to take advantage of certain objects to kick off the event with while you wait for the sky to darken, not just the planets but also the Moon.

If there are early birds to your event, you may even treat them to seeing Earth's shadow being cast into the sky following sunset! Something that most people have seen but have never noticed because they actually just didn't know what it is they were seeing. The largest possible shadow to see, Earth's own shadow.

I have known about Earth's shadow & the Belt of Venus that leads it for over 40 years, and I still get a kick out of spotting it when I can after sunset & before sunrise :) . One of life's little pleasures for me...

#24 Vinnyvent84

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Posted 07 January 2024 - 10:35 PM

A couple of days ago during a presentation of the school where my kid (soon 5 years old) studies, the managers told us that they were looking for after-school activities coming from parents (dance, music... whatever).

You guess what came through my mind immediately.

So I proposed to the school an event where the kids could look at the sky with the telescope of the dad (me). For now it's just an idea I launched.
I have some outreach experience with family, neighbors, friends. I think I have a good idea of what targets works or not, taking also into account that there will be some light around. It will have to be in the winter due to sunset time here, so I will ask to keep flexible dates (useless to come with the telescope with cloud cover).

Looking at sky simulations, I selected the middle of November, December or January where the Moon (half), Saturn and Jupiter are high enough in a proper direction. That should ensure the show.
Should the event last longer than expected, some last survivor stay and wanting more, I could eventually show Andromeda Galaxy or something else.
It will be me and my Mak.

The checklist I made for now...
- plan visibility of objects, come a couple of days before to check no building blocking the view etc
- prepare answers to the unavoidable questions "how far is the Moon", "how far can you see with the telescope", "how big is Jupiter" etc
- Put fragile gear in a safe zone
- Bring something so that kids can be at correct height and if possible have something else than the eyepiece to grab
- I usually never use my dew heater due to insulation of my telescope, but due to winter weather, check if it still works

Do you see anything I would miss?


I’m a total noob and just recently got my first scope. However I have an almost 4 year old son obsessed with space and I purchased these little red LED’s that have a low setting. They are meant for bicycle tubes but perfect fit around a tripod leg. I strap those on so when he’s walking around he doesn’t bump into the tripod legs in the dark. 30 bucks for 3 total and you can recharge them. Just a thought hope it helps!

https://www.amazon.c...&language=en-US

#25 OneSky

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Posted 07 January 2024 - 11:24 PM

Freeze out:

 

What are the chances that the sky will clear in the winter in the Netherlands? 

 

What are your backup plans?

 

It's great that there is so much interest.

 

Jon

I recently did an outreach to a group of about 2 dozen people (mostly adults but with a few grade school-aged kids) with my two scopes (one visual/planets and one doing EAA/DSO to an iPad). The backup plan did come in handy because it got kind of cold. We went inside and I showed some EAA and astrophotography slides I'd made of objects we didn't have time to see or which had been visible in a different season. This is an over generalization, but it seems that planets tend to have more immediate appeal with most people, including kids, whereas DSOs like galaxies and nebulae tend to introduce more abstract concepts like light years and the interaction of cosmic dust and gases. Other aspects that some people find very interesting are the different kinds of telescopes and the live-stacking technology of EAA which allows us to see faint DSOs. On the other hand, a very low-tech item that some found fascinating was my planisphere.




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