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How to get the public more excited about what they are seeing in the eyepiece?

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#1 HagglePig420  Happy Birthday!

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 09:39 AM

I love doing outreach with people. Our club does some public events now and then and in the warmer months, sometimes I'll bring out a scope to the boardwalk or places along the Jersey Shore to just do some sidewalk astronomy. Sometimes with just a little refractor or SCT, sometimes with my 12" or 16" scopes.

I find that people get blown away by Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and especially the moon. But, it's really hit or miss with DSOs, even showpiece objects through something like 16" get a lukewarm response.. I assume it's because people kind of expect to see hubble images of colorful nebulae and galaxies etc

But what are some things you guys talk about while sharing the night sky with people? Do you guys have any facts or things you say that kind of makes things more interesting? What are the objects you get the most excitement from? I know some guys are just really good at getting people pumped about what they are seeing. I'm just curious how you guys make the experience more interesting.
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#2 donniesoprano

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 10:11 AM

.. I assume it's because people kind of expect to see hubble images of colorful nebulae and galaxies etc
 

I think this....not sure there's much you can do except hope that one in twenty or one in fifty is intrigued enough to consider the actual photons they're seeing and the physical connection at the eyepiece vs scrolling through photo after photo.  Enough to get engaged themselves...

 

ds


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#3 therealdmt

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 10:55 AM

DSOs are a tough sell.

 

Like you say, the planets and the Moon are good, as can be a colorful double star like Almach or Albireo. I’ve gotten good reactions from the Double Cluster (two groups of young stars), the Pleiades through the finderscope or a wide field of view telescope (a beautiful group of young stars, means the 7 sisters of Greek mythology, nymphs who were the daughters of Atlas; in Japanese it is called "Subaru", yep, same as the car) and also the Small Sagittarius Starcloud, explaining how it’s a window through usually intervening dust clouds to the next spiral arm inward from us towards the center of the Milky Way.

 

Nebulas just don’t seem to register (in my experience), even when you explain that they’re a cloud of gas and dust from which stars are being born (or whatever explanation applies to the particular nebula you’re showing). A bright galaxy (in particular, M31) can get some appreciation when you explain what it is (a seperate "island universe" millions of light years away, etc.), but I wouldn’t bother trying for a second one. Similarly, one bright globular cluster (ex., M13) could be okay (a ball of ancient stars, a good percentage as old as the universe itself). But really, things are getting pretty abstract.

 

If you want more than a shrug, just show ‘em Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon, maybe one bright colorful double star, and Pleiades. It seems to me that very few are going to be able to (or even want to) appreciate much beyond that, at least in terms of telescopic objects.

 

People do like constellations, the Milky Way and meteors. People also like "events" — eclipses, meteor showers, an appearance of a comet, planetary conjunctions, planetary oppositions (especially Mars) or basically anything they hear/read about in the news. "Supermoons", that kind of thing.

 

Some people strongly desire to take a picture of what they’re seeeing with their smartphone, though good luck with that.

 

Good luck getting people to dark adapt


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#4 lwbehney

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 11:19 AM

As above. My own experience is the same. Our club had an event at a public park and the main target was a half-illuminated moon. Towards the end of the night, one small group came up to me and asked me if I would show them the Ring Nebula in my five inch refractor. They were seriously disappointed. Nebulae of any kind need a dark background sky to be aesthetically pleasing. The point I am making is that even people who have some knowledge of what is available to see in the sky, are not going to be impressed, if the object viewed has miserable contrast. This is my hobby and even I am not very excited about looking at DSO targets aside from double stars if the Moon is brightening the sky. 

 

@Haggglepig420- I would love to view galaxies in your 16 inch or 12 inch telescopes, but only in a dark sky setting, where their beauty can be truly appreciated. 



#5 RayUh

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 11:27 AM

I love doing outreach with people. Our club does some public events now and then and in the warmer months, sometimes I'll bring out a scope to the boardwalk or places along the Jersey Shore to just do some sidewalk astronomy. Sometimes with just a little refractor or SCT, sometimes with my 12" or 16" scopes.

I find that people get blown away by Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and especially the moon. But, it's really hit or miss with DSOs, even showpiece objects through something like 16" get a lukewarm response.. I assume it's because people kind of expect to see hubble images of colorful nebulae and galaxies etc

But what are some things you guys talk about while sharing the night sky with people? Do you guys have any facts or things you say that kind of makes things more interesting? What are the objects you get the most excitement from? I know some guys are just really good at getting people pumped about what they are seeing. I'm just curious how you guys make the experience more interesting.

People may want to consider that the light they are seeing from the Orion Nebula is 1400 years old, from the 7th Century.


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#6 PeteConrad

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 11:49 AM

You're right that average passerby expects to see a Hubble image if casually asked by someone with a giant 16" if they'd like to "see a nebula." You really gotta sell it at an emotional, storytelling level. In my experience, describing the distance of a DSO is a good device to build intrigue. Then swing over to a galaxy and blow their mind. The human brain is simply not built to deal with the vastness. Framing the object as reaallllllyyy far away also helps the average Joe understand why the object is so dim while also giving them a more active, participatory role as the photon emitted during the early Paleolithic period travels millions of miles between galaxies to land in their eye, this evening. Gives you a chance to get all philosophical "we are the universe experiencing itself." 


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#7 jimr2

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 11:54 AM

I would agree with everyone's comments here regarding the "lackluster" appreciation of DSOs by the general public at star parties, as viewed thru the eyepiece of a "normal" telescope, be it a refractor, reflector, SCT, etc. However, after having recently acquired my first EAA-type scope--a Unistellar model, which is a 4-inch reflector--that's been pretty much a game-changer regarding DSOs. True, you are not looking directly thru an eyepiece with this type of scope generally, but the view you can produce of an ordinarily dim and unimpressive DSO in a matter of 30 seconds or so using "live stacking" to display the object on a cellphone or tablet screen, is quite impressive I think, and has been pretty much a game-changer for me at public star parties. I've heard numerous "wows" from the public while showing them various dim DSOs--like the Ring nebula, etc. So apparently there is some hope left for the general public out there in getting them interested in looking at "faint-fuzzies", but it does take a specialized type of scope (EAA), and unfortunately, EAA scopes are not so good on planets and the Moon, least my Unistellar isn't, so you still need another scope for those objects for the public. But again, there may be some hope left yet! Just my $0.02 worth.....

 

-jim-



#8 jgraham

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 02:39 PM

I heard a well respected advocate for astronomical outreach comment that there were really only 3 things that were consistently well received at outreach events; Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon. My experience has been consistent with this with the addition of Mars near opposition and crescent Venus through a large scope. When these targets are not available we like to have at least one EAA system in the mix to help guests see what to look for when they look through the eyepiece. 


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#9 rjacks

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 03:33 PM

The only nebula that wows outreach observers is the Orion Nebula, and even it isn't 100% People think it's cool if they can see two or more galaxies in the FOV, like M81/M82 or M65/66, but you really need to have good skies for galaxies. Similarly, only the bright showpiece globular clusters will be appreciated: M3, M5, M13, M15, and M2. Very bright and dense open clusters will get an "ooohh". I think there are less than 15 DSOs you can count on for a good response from outreach observers.

 

I have more luck guiding people through the MW with binoculars.



#10 maroubra_boy

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 08:52 PM

Much of the craft here is the story telling skill.

 

The number one thing I do is try not to use jargon.  What I do use I slowly introduce first as a concept and then introduce the technical term for it because this way people will then understand what you are talking about.  And the one term I do this way is "light years", but I don't just use it "BANG! here it is, deal with it..."  Many people will feel intimidated by the term and the sheer size of the numbers, so work into it.  Some other people will understand the term and be comfortable with the numbers, but you cannot afford to lose those people who need help to only favour those others, as you have just spoiled the night for those others instead of crafting your narrative in a way that includes everyone.

 

In not using jargon, you need to find words that describe things in layman's terms, in ways they can understand using everyday concepts.  But this lends itself it using adjectives in the descriptions and you drop in your enthusiasm for astro.  The art of story telling is a public speaking one, how to engage with the audience and no be condescending, not being ageist and including different cultures take on astronomy over the eons as astronomy is not Eurocentric.

 

By expressing what it is that people are about to see you are prepping them for the experience of a unique vista.  If you just say "this is a globular cluster" and nothing more, you a failing in the opportunity of telling them how it is the remnant core of a galaxy our Milky Way swallowed up long, long ago, how it can have a black hole at its core which then allows you to lead into a discussion about black holes and how they are not going to swallow everything up.  You build up a narrative of what can be seen in the night sky, naked eye and telescopic, and how the different things relate to each other.

 

The narrative is what takes time to build and craft.  How you lead into one thing from another.  What makes that faint galaxy a special thing and not a let down image.  You tell people that much of what is to be seen is faint and that it takes a little time for the human eye to adapt to make out the soft details.

 

Become familiar with a bunch of objects and think about how you can describe them without jargon.  What is it about them that makes them special, what features to try to spy out within it, and a few stats about it that you had first introduced.  Build the story you are telling.  Don't smash out stats and statistics as this bamboozles, bores and you lose your audience.

 

There are things you cannot help.  If transparency is not great and it will impact on the quality of how things look through the eyepiece.  You need to be adaptable and increase your familiarity with the night sky so you can adapt to best suit conditions.  And you need to consider the number of people that you have on the night as you can do things very differently if you have two guests vs 200.

 

As an example, I would never attempt to show the Horsehead nebula to a crowd.  But for one or two guests, it can be possible, but you need to understand how transparency can impact its appearance, so it can be an easy target or one that challenges and you use it to actually challenge the novice but only as a one-off, explaining that on this occasion it will be difficult.  I actually did this last night with the one guest we had at our session as transparency was down, but everything else we show them was just fine.  Or you may challenge them with a very unique other object.  We also had a supernova visible early on in the night, and even though it was a difficult target I did a little drawing of the asterism it was located in and mentioned the different relative brilliance of the key stars to identify the supernova that was not only 140 million light years away, but was also BRIGHTER than the parent galaxy!  But this is not something for a group.

 

That you are enthusiastic about outreach is already a HUGE advantage.  Now work on your story telling and familiarity with things and you will develop a narrative that you will be able to adapt.

 

Alex.


Edited by maroubra_boy, 15 December 2023 - 08:58 PM.

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#11 MarkMittlesteadt

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Posted 15 December 2023 - 09:15 PM

Engage with them on a human level, our place in the Universe.

 

Most people think of everything beyond Earth as "out there", as if we live in a snowglobe and everything outside the globe is the "rest of the Universe". Because for the most part despite consciously knowing we are a part of it all, we are still very Earth-centric. Be descriptive in sharing how we are also out there, and that we aren't simply part of it, we are one with it.

 

Explain how fast the ground they are standing on is moving around the Earth's axis, yet we cannot feel it. Explain how fast all of us humans on Earth are flying through the solar system around our Sun which is just like billions of other "suns" with their own planets. Get them to think outside themselves. 

 

Appeal to their old, youthful sense of curiosity, wonder and awe before they became jaded and dulled by every day life. Harken them back to a time when they used to naturally daydream, before daily life squashed their dreams.

 

The point isn't just to show them objects in a telescope. Our job is to inspire, to become great storytellers of human potential, where we all came from, how we got here and where they might wish to go. 

 

Equipment, or lack thereof isn't what's important. Inspire and they will find their own way.


Edited by MarkMittlesteadt, 15 December 2023 - 09:16 PM.

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#12 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 16 December 2023 - 05:49 AM

Most outreach is done at sites that are accessible to the public. DSOs are not at their best.

 

Many people are aware of the Pleiades. They make a good target but require either a shorter focal length refractor or binoculars..

 

Set up two scopes both looking at the same objects. The line first sees the object at 15x with a 4° field and then at 120x 

 

Clusters are nice under brighter skies.

 

What's your agenda? Recruiting new amateur astronomers or sharing with someone something that you find interesting and exciting?

 

Jon


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#13 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 16 December 2023 - 07:22 AM

Like others said, expectations have a major role.

People expect M31 to be a big yellow brilliant galaxy with millions of red, orange, white and blue suns around plus some Klingon and Vulcan spaceships throwing lasers each other.

You give them a grey dim ghost, they're obviously frustrated.

 

99.9% of the public don't appreciate nebulae and galaxies. Only "Sheldon" appreciates M81 or NGC253 for the first time.

Most people only see grey faint amorphous smudges, and -from their point of view- that sucks.

 

Why is that ?

 

Moon craters, mountains, shadows and plains speak for themselves, people see a whole world developing under their eyes.

Saturn ring and Venus crescent don't need an explanation, Albireo and Pleaides are a sight on themselves.

 

Objects like M81 or M20 are different, they're not self-explanatory.

You need to warm up your public, explain what is a galaxy or a nebulae, talk about their scale and role in the Universe.

Warn them about what they're going to see and remind them of the wonders hidden in the smudge.

At that point, you're ready to share your DSO with the public.

 

You're not going to get "Wow! Amazing! Awesome!" responses, but you may get some "Oh, I can see it!", "Yup, there's something there" or even a "Now, I understand" (the best compliment I ever heard).

 

What general public appreciates the most is :

 

a. The Moon

b. Planets

c. Sun

d. Doubles 

e. Comparing colourful stars (like Betelgeuse vs Rigel). Yep, just looking at solitary stars and their colours.

f. Bright open clusters like Pleaides or Mirfak association or Melotte 110 (all require wide field)

g. Globular clusters get a mixed response. At least, bring a telescope able to resolve the outer stars.

h. Planetary nebulae with funny shapes like M57 or NGC 7009 get some interest

i. Galaxies and nebulae are the least popular.


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#14 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 16 December 2023 - 07:25 AM

EAA helps a lot to "sweeten" the DSO targets.

 

M57 looks a lot better on EAA than on pure visual, however don't forget it takes some time to build the image.

Make sure you can keep your public busy while the image slowly builds, otherwise you will lose their attention.

For example, show Jupiter on your telescope while EAA builds M81 image.

 

NVD may close the gap between visual and EAA, but it's still pretty expensive.


Edited by Sebastian_Sajaroff, 16 December 2023 - 07:26 AM.

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#15 HagglePig420  Happy Birthday!

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Posted 17 December 2023 - 10:12 AM

I might do that next time. I'll bring like an 8" or 12" maybe the 16" in our darker area on great nights, for people to observe the planets, moon, or if they care to, a DSO.

Then I'll put together an EAA set up from my Astrophotography gear. I have asiIr so that should make things east to display

I'm just more trying to find a way to get people more emotionally connected to what they are looking at, a way a good teacher gets a student interested in a subject. Guess I just have to work on that.
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#16 preprius

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Posted 17 December 2023 - 11:37 AM

Sometimes when I am in front yard, people ask what am I looking at Most of the time it is a globular cluster or open clusters. Then they ask if this is my profession.  Oh no way too much math is involved. 

I just like to see how nature makes other objects.  Like 1 million stars in a ball. Or neon signs that last million years.

 

But only a handful of people over 3 years will peek thru the eyepiece.


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#17 maroubra_boy

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Posted 17 December 2023 - 06:13 PM

Delivery is most of the game.

Saying only that an object is a "globular cluster" means nothing to them. If you say that a globular cluster is the remnant core of a galaxy that the Milky Way swallowed up long, long ago & it has a black hole at its centre, then the number of passersby that would like to have a look may well increase.

With open clusters, stating the component stars are all siblings brings more context to the grouping. Depending on the time of year you may have access to a particularly intense & colourful cluster & you ask your audience if they "can spot the ruby among the diamonds?". It's a little more interactive & not just a look & tick. There are a few such clusters in our southern sky.

I mention southern objects on the most part as this is what I am most familiar with. If you are under the northern sky then find similar objects. Southern observers will also be reading this thread.

Galaxies, unless it is from a dark site and with some aperture this can be a hiding to nothing. In the southern sky are fortunate to have the Magellanic Clouds, with the Large Magellanic Cloud being a face-on dwarf barred spiral galaxy, a mini-me of the Milky Way and the arms of this spiral can be seen through binos or a rich field scope. If your sky is especially dark, some DSO'S within the LMC can be seen naked eye, such as the Tarantula Nebula.

Keep reading on astro stuff & working out ways to speak to your audience without jargon.

Showing people naked eye stuff let's them understand what they have been seeing all these years but never understood what it was that they were actually looking at. And if you can include some indigenous astronomy lore and even of other cultures then this enriches your narrative.

Even when I post here I try to keep the jargon down to a minimum or introduce a term with an explanation (or you then expand the explanation). But it is not about dumbing down. The complete opposite. It is about teaching. You are teaching as much as showing. Talking to an audience is a learned craft that takes time & refinement and further learning from you.

Alex.

Edited by maroubra_boy, 18 December 2023 - 04:14 PM.

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#18 August_Moon

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Posted 17 December 2023 - 11:12 PM

I have to agree with maroubra_boy. Use plain names and simple explanations. Like when I show M45,Pleiades, or what ever you want to call it I say Subaru. Not only is it correct but alot of people can easily identify with the name. Then I explain the other names if asked and how yes the car company is named after it and the emblem is stars. Then if we can see  Orions neb easily bare eyed I show them it via the scope and usually get a good reaction. Its about connecting with people and explaining things on a relatable level. I never went to college, I am a blue collar worker and did not get into this until I was like 27. So I find it easy to speak plainly with people. I've seen alot of college kids really struggle with connecting with the average joe. I stick with letting people say whatever and not letting it bother me, plain everyday words and "layman" terms. If someone can not see something just reassure them that its ok and let them know it can take time to learn how to see in a telescope.


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#19 Mike Q

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Posted 18 December 2023 - 10:11 AM

When people look thru the scope the first time i always channel my inner Carl Sagan and attempt to use the simplest language to explain.  I find if you say a nebula is where stars are born or what is left of a star after it dies they see to appreciate it better and even grasp the idea.  I use reflectors for outreach at home.  When i show someone a nebula or galaxy its with my best eyepieces so they can see the best image i can provide them 


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#20 Nankins

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 08:23 AM

When I have M31 in the scope I tell people how far away it is. They get a kick out of that. With emission nebulae like M8 I tell them it's a giant cloud where stars are born. With planetary nebulae I show them M57 and tell them it's the shell thrown off by a dying star. I also recently discovered the other good planetary nebula to show from in town is the Saturn Nebula because it is very similar in size and brightness level to M57 and also can show a good amount of detail. I might also run through some of the constellations and some other basic information. Otherwise I show them the planets.
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#21 DSOGabe

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 01:02 PM

Open and globular clusters usually to get a good response; galaxies and PNs, not so much. Sadly none of the above tend to do as well compared to the moon and planets.

What I will do during outreach is focus on the moon (that's when we do more events) and have 2 eyepieces out and swap them out for each person. The lower power view wows, them the the higher power truly blows them away.

The 2 eyepieces are my 24mm and 16mm ES68s. Once they look through the 24mm and are going to walk away I jokingly tell them that I'm not finished with them and come back to for this view, then switch out the EP. Its a winner each time.


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#22 Nankins

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 02:11 PM

You do have to think about whether or not the moon and planets are up. Because if they aren't you have to stick to Deep Sky Objects. And as said in many above posts, these just don't impress people (mostly; they will if you get someone who is truly interested in the hobby).
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#23 maroubra_boy

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 04:37 PM

DSOGabe does make an important point. You do need to plan what you intend to show. And it also depends on whether you are doing this on your own or with other people with their own scopes.

There are difficult objects to sell for their reduced visual impact. No doubting this. But outreach shouldn't all be about fireworks & thrills. Astro is a technical profession & past time, so some things will be a little more demanding on the eye, and this is where you can make some more difficult objects a feature of challenging your audience a little more. You will need to spend a little more time quietly speaking to them as they look into the eyepiece, telling them how to look (averted vision needs to be reminded & encouraged) and even to move/tap the scope to induce movement to reset the eye's sensitivity.

The Moon & planets pretty much stand on their own because they are bright. DSO's however, are a very different visual proposition because looking at them is not within the realm of the normal everyday sighted experience. So part of your delivery must include a more intimate part where you quietly mention how to use the scope. This instruction cannot be barked out to the masses and expect them to remember with military precision. It doesn't work that way.

So while some DSO's may not be too flash, it is an opportunity to give people a visual experience that does challenge them a little. It may not thrill the pants off them, but it is sharing a small part of what excites us. And how you communicate this more quiet experience is key to the challenge being at least appreciated a little more.
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#24 zizzapnia

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 05:36 PM

Reading this thread has given me some great ideas. We have a Bortle 4 site for outreach, therefore we could show them a pretty wide variety of objects. However, I've found Jupiter and Saturn, if they're up, will keep them lined up at my scope the whole night with lots of "oohs and ahhhs," and they're more likely to come back. I might show some DSO showpiece objects, but have to work harder to make them interesting with my spiel. I've got a 10-inch dob that I usually use.

 

Context is critical. My main goal is to get them excited about the vastness and beauty of the universe and where we fit in. For those in line, I'll explain how we're "inside" on an arm of our own galaxy and that's why the Milky Way stretches across the sky. I'll explain how we're looking back in time at everything out there- from about 80-some minutes to Saturn now to millions of years for even close galaxies. I tell them that they're seeing an object as it was before they were born! I explain that almost everything we can see with the naked eye is in our own  galaxy, and sometimes use a somewhat incorrect but useful analogy of drops of rain on the car windshield being stars in our galaxy, and the other cars being other galaxies well beyond those stars. There are probably better analogies and I'd love to hear them.

 

The hardest thing is making sure the image in the eyepiece is in perfect focus for everyone. I ask them to describe what they are seeing, to make sure, and show them where the focuser knob is. Also proper eye placement is critical. They are often hesitant to put their eyes right up to the eyepiece.

 

My own enthusiasm goes a long way toward getting them into it, so I try to bring as much energy as I can.


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#25 maroubra_boy

maroubra_boy

    Soyuz

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Posted 19 December 2023 - 07:07 PM

YES!!!

Yes, yes, yes!

Don't expect people not to have to adjust focus. When you go to a mate's scope you adjust the focus just as they will when they come to your scope. It is absurd to have people enjoy a view through your scope if the view is not sharp to their eyes. They often don't know what to expect at the eyepiece so you need to make sure they at least know how to adjust the focus.

You tell people not to grab the scope. That is important and critical. You then quietly show them how to adjust the focus. They won't break the scope. Some may actually fear breaking something which is why you quietly show them how as this intimate & personal instruction makes the world of difference.

I also have no problem having people move my dobs. If they say that the object is moving out of the field of view I show them where to hold the scope & they can move it themselves. And their reaction is always the same "oh, this is so easy to move!". There is a little mental gymnastics involved but I have not encountered anyone who didn't get the hang of it within a minute. This is with my 4.5" dob, my 8", 12" & 17.5". It is one advantage of not having a motorised dob, and there is nothing they can break.

And people get a real thrill out of driving the scope themselves.

Alex.

Edited by maroubra_boy, 19 December 2023 - 08:58 PM.

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