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Questions regarding SIDEWALK ASTRONOMY

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#1 Lightbucket12

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Posted 27 January 2024 - 12:43 PM

Hello one and all,

 

 I am new to this sub-forum in CN and it appears that there’s an extensive knowledge base related to sidewalk astronomy based on the number of postings related to this subject thus the reason for this post.

 

The High Desert Astronomy Club of Kingman Arizona will be hosting sidewalk astronomy events in Old Town, a revitalized and reconfigured area with broad sidewalks conducive to summer-time evening events, given that there are numerous micro-breweries, restaurants and shops.  Spring through Fall on the first Friday of the month the main street is closed to vehicle traffic and the area becomes a place to mingle with friends, eat and enjoy the evening in a festive atmosphere.  It appears that this would be a good place for our outreach program to do some sidewalk astronomy.

 

All of the above said, the Club has have never done any sidewalk astronomy and planning the event is a new process for us and brings up some questions as it somewhat differs from a Star Party held in closer controlled areas of a community park.

 

Assuming we will be viewing the Moon and planetary objects in the main:

     Is there any preference for using small aperture telescopes given location constraints like the sidewalk?

     Any preferences for using simple push/pull dobs as opposed to go-to mounts.

     With respect to handing out informational literature, how much / how little or none at all given we don’t want to see the sidewalks littered and wear out our welcome.

     In the main, have there been or are there reoccurring issues with the public abuse of the equipment, we’ve not had any at the star parties?

 

Tips, tricks or anything else you might wish to pass on would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

Bert



#2 Couder

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Posted 27 January 2024 - 12:53 PM

I'm sure we've all had a bad experience ourselves, or know someone who has at a public star party. You have to expect people are going to grab the eyepiece and move it to make it more comfortable for them. You have to expect kids are going to do the same. You have to expect people to try and look inside the truss tube assembly, or inside the refractor tube or inside the Newtonian tube to see if the image is real or you have a projector. you have to expect people are going to be smoking. Given all this, it seems the thing to do is use regular push-to Dobsonians unless you're prepared to be real strict with people, which kind of defeats the purpose.

I've had mostly good experiences, but of course the bad ones stick out in your mind.


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#3 maroubra_boy

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Posted 27 January 2024 - 04:39 PM

If you are going with two or more people, having two scopes is a big help, even if both are set on the Moon.  One a refractor and the other a reflector of some kind or other, Newt, SCT, Mak, whatever.  I would suggest using the frac on low power and the reflector on high.

 

If the crowd/queue become long, having a "wingman" who doesn't have a scope is good to help talk to the crowd to answer questions and keep the queue neat while they wait.  Safety in numbers though I have done sidewalk astronomy on my own and had no problem, but each night/site/town/country is different.

 

Even with organised events, for each and every person that comes to my scope for the first time I quietly meet each person at the eyepiece to say a few patient words on how to not grab the scope and to look through the eyepiece or as I sometimes say "look into that little glass window".  It helps them get their head into a better position - remember, most visitors will have no experience with a scope (micro or tele) and head position can be critical for correct eye placement.  When mentioning "try to not grab the scope", say at the same time that it is "because your pulse will make the scope shake".  It takes away the negative issue that they may cause the scope to move out of position and puts a positive spin on the instruction that it is for their benefit and that EVERYONE has a pulse so it won't become a personal issue.  You will need to do this with everyone who comes to the eyepiece, but these quiet words will mean they won't be agitated and will take these quiet words as a favourable and personally warm invitation.

 

Some people have no problem with using motorised scopes with sidewalk astro.  But you need to be on the ball with talking to each visitor.  There is a risk that someone will grab and shove the scope (it will happen) and you will need to accept that there may be some risk to the mount.  A motorised scope can provide more resistance to some people inadvertently grabbing the scope.  There will be some people who will still be a little excited and grab no matter what you say, it isn't malicious, they are just trying to steady themselves at the scope or may even do so because they see the image drift across the FOV and moving an astro scope is not the same as moving a terrestrial instrument, what with the image being upside-down or flipped left to right.

 

While I tell each and every person how to look through the scope, I also instruct on how to focus the scope.  It is dumb to think that because it is focused to your eyes that every other person will also see things just as focused.  After all YOU adjust the focus when you come to someone else's scope you need to allow people to adjust focus for themselves.  You have just quietly told them how not to grab at the scope, but now you entrust them with being careful in focusing the scope for themselves.  And people respond very favourably to this.  For me it doesn't matter if it is at an organised outreach event or an off the cuff sidewalk session, I say the same quiet things to everyone.  And people respond very favourably to this entrusting after you said grabbing/holding the scope causes it to shake because of their pulse.

 

If you do use some type of reflecting scope, don't be shy about showing people what the inside of it looks like.  Most people when they thing telescope they think refractor or what a pirate uses (which is exactly what one park ranger thought it was that we would be bringing to an outreach event, hand-held pirate scopes...), so Newts, Maks and SCTs are not something they will be familiar with or expecting.

 

Handing out literature, a BIG be-very-bloody-careful!!!  A local council may see this as advertising or a potential littering issue and passers-by may see this as some sort of entrapment for a con or religious group.  The local council if they suspect that you are doing this as a commercial thing may send rangers to shut you down as the council may require any commercial enterprise to register with them and pay them a fee (yep, many Australian local councils are always on the look out for taking money from people).  I would suggest just a couple of signs at most saying who you are (the astro club) and what is to be seen through the scopes.  Oh, and at most your club's website too.  Nothing more.  People are armed with their smartphones, so they will find out your bona fides very quickly this way if they are suspicious or actively seek more info this way.  Forget handouts - so very 20th century... :lol:

 

Remember:  with sidewalk astro you are totally exposed.  The risk is ALL yours.  YOUR role is not only as educator but also as diplomat.  You would be aware of this already and find the risk acceptable if you are even considering this, but it goes a long way to be reminded waytogo.gif  You will need to think on your toes on how to answer questions that may seem dumb or obvious but are said honestly, and to deal with curveballs that are either smartalec or come from the line of conspiracy theorists or religious or have deep cultural ties to astrology.  Keep your cool and treat everyone respectfully.  Each situation is different.

 

I have met all manner of people with my sidewalk astro.  I have met people people who believe in astrology so I just address this by mentioning how astrology follows patterns that can be calculated for mathematically, and it is these patterns and resulting mathematics to gave birth to astronomy and the science around it without the mystic aspect of astrology.  You don't dismiss people's ideas or faith.  You show reason even if you don't follow the mystic aspect and you are not being dismissive.

 

Oh, by the way, here is something that may spin your wheels! and you may even use this in your sidewalk astro if the chance comes up.  YOU, the person reading this post, YOU might think that you have absolutely ZERO direct link to any of the ancient Egypt Pharaohs.   And to even older cultures!  BUT YOU DO!  An 6000+ year unbroken cultural link -  Astrology!!!  Yep, the on and the same.  And it takes you as far geographically as to Hindu India.  It is the one and very same astrology.  Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, etc, they all made use of the very same astrological symbols, patterns, mathematics and mystic believes that are at work today (whether you chose to follow them or not).  Remember, calculating lunar or solar eclipses can be done without a calculator/computer, and was able to be done by the ancients, and if you could predict such an event it could make you incredibly powerful in the eyes of the King and his Court.  Screw up the prediction of a victory though could put your life at great risk...

 

Alex.


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#4 maroubra_boy

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Posted 27 January 2024 - 04:59 PM

Oh, KIDS!!!

 

You must be very careful with kids.

 

Taking a short step ladder with a tall handrail is a very good idea.  It not only makes access to the eyepiece easier for some people, not just kids, but the handrail also gives something for people to grab on to and not the scope.  Never a great idea to lift someone to the eyepiece...  See the pic below about what I mean by a stepladder with tall handrail and an example of how the WRONG sort of ladder can be very bloody dangerous for person and scope!!!!  In the pic below with the kiddie, once that scope is pointed any higher up the child will no longer be able to reach that handrail and will be relying entirely on their toes to stay on that ladder and on the scope.

 

If there are kids who are struggling to look into the scope, ASK the parent or guardian FIRST if you can help their child by guiding their head.  You MUST ASK PERMISSION FIRST if you need to touch a child to help them at the scope.  It shows you are being respectful to and aware of the child's parents and that you are conscious of child protection.  In some countries it is a legal requirement that ANYONE who comes into contact with children in a public or institutional environment MUST have a Working With Children check done by the Police and have the number issued to you by the Police handy.  This is the case here in Australia.  Sadly there have been too many morons who have harm children that steps need to be taken for the safety of children.  If this is a volunteer job you are doing, a Working With Children Check costs you nothing here.  So check what the local legislation requires from you to be on the safe side.

 

Alex.

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  • step ladder iv.jpeg
  • BAD astro ladder.jpg

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#5 mogur

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Posted 27 January 2024 - 11:05 PM

I would think that a six or eight inch dob would be perfect for S-A. Relatively cheap. Not prone to breakage. Give great views of many different objects and will take 200x magnification (for the wow factor on the moon). They are tall enough for an adult to use but short enough for a kid, usually without a ladder. Maybe a small step-stool. The fact that they look like a cannon will get some "cool" remarks too.


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#6 Lightbucket12

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Posted 28 January 2024 - 08:21 PM

Thanks all for contributing to my education and that of the Cub.  No doubt there will be some interesting conversations relating to the information during our upcoming monthly meetings as you have affirmed some things we know of, others we either suspected or inferred, and yet others that were not on our radar let along on the map.

 

One of my personal concerns was using go-to mounts in this type of public setting for the reasons you have stated, thanks for affirming.  So to participating members wishing to use their go-to’s there will be a “caveat emptor”.  Personally I will use a 150mm, flex tube SW newt on a ES Twilight II mount and keep things simple, at least into the foreseeable future.  If someone wishes to peer down the optical tube no problem, just no cigarette ashes please.

 

Alex, I really like your method and techniques for interfacing with the public, all go stuff, worth incorporating in our program in general.  Oh by the way, I love your comment, “Forget handouts - so very 20th Century”.  I am mid-20th Century and you bring up a very good and valid point, “things change” and we need to change with the times.  It’s summer down south, surf’s up, enjoy the weather.

 

Thanks everyone,

 

Bert 


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#7 PJ Anway

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Posted 28 January 2024 - 08:54 PM

I've done a lot of public events and have personally found a driven mount to work best. It doesn't have to be go-to, just driven. It makes it much easier for inexperienced observers. Otherwise, you'll have individuals that, by the time they finally figuring out where to place their eye, the object is already out of the field, especially with somewhat higher powers on planets. With a driven mount when they say, "I can't see it", you have a better idea of why and how to help.


Edited by PJ Anway, 28 January 2024 - 08:58 PM.

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#8 mogur

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 12:29 AM

I've done a lot of public events and have personally found a driven mount to work best. It doesn't have to be go-to, just driven. It makes it much easier for inexperienced observers. Otherwise, you'll have individuals that, by the time they finally figuring out where to place their eye, the object is already out of the field, especially with somewhat higher powers on planets. With a driven mount when they say, "I can't see it", you have a better idea of why and how to help.

Until one of them kicks a tripod leg and you lose alignment.



#9 kfiscus

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 12:35 AM

My favorite outreach rig is a 12" solid-tube dob on an EQ platform.  I have a step stool with a high handle for smaller people.  I also have a 12" x 12" x 6" block of wood painted white for when just a little boost is needed.


Edited by kfiscus, 29 January 2024 - 12:36 AM.

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#10 Nankins

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 11:52 AM

I so far haven't had any issues with the public abusing telescopes, but some here on the forum do have stories. As for telescope size, on the sidewalk yes you will be limited, but my advice is go as big as the sidewalk (and what you have equipment wise) will allow.  The public tends to go for the big scopes and the scopes with the best views.  I've certainly noticed this.  At our club, when we have open house stargazing nights, most of the public will look through as many scopes as they can, but the 16" SCT upstairs gets almost nonstop attention and usually at least half the attendees head up there first. I use my own dob, and find that although it is lower than anything on a tripod, it is still hard for kids in wheelchairs to access. It is manual, so the biggest issue is keeping the object in view and having to make sure no one knocks the scope, as well as checking between viewers to make sure the object is still in view (and finding it again if it isn't).  This takes up a lot of time, so in this respect a Go-To mount would be easier, but again those are expensive and there are plenty of problems with using them in public, especially around people who don't know better and who don't realize how much those things cost.  And as for handing out information, that's your preference. Don't hand out a lot of pamphlets and stuff, just more of like your club's information, and maybe some informational stuff on the solar system, etc, but most of the information you should give the public will hopefully be verbal.  They look up to and respect someone who knows or seems to know more than they do about a subject.  And don't worry if the information you give is wrong.  Sometimes they won't notice, and other more knowledgeable club members can correct you.  That happens all the time to me.  I also always tell people not to act rough, etc around the scope and also how to look through it.  Most listen and follow my advice.  I've had a few who listen but have a hard time following the advice and the scope got accidentally knocked off target and they had to wait for me to realign and get the object back in view.  Most of them got rewarded with a view after that. 

 

I've never had any encounters with people who didn't agree with the science or who were into astrology or who thought they had the smarts and really didn't know better.  So take that advice from others here who have dealt with those things.


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#11 Nankins

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 11:55 AM

Oh, and be prepared for crazy reactions. Most will just look and say that was nice (even with Jupiter and Saturn), but I've had a few who were saying wow over a few bright DSO's, and also once I had some excitement from a young girl that I literally thought was hyperventilating over seeing Saturn for the first time.  She had me grinning ear to ear for a long time over that reaction.  Best one ever. She was almost yelling over Saturn the whole time, then came back for another look. 


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#12 DSOGabe

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 06:05 PM

Aperture in this case is not really relevant; you will be limited to bright objects due to the light pollution of the area where the event will be. So even a 4" scope will be more than enough.

 

I would say 1 scope per person is the best situation; I've tried running 2 scopes and it was a lot of work. Besides, there should be other club members with their own scopes so all viable targets should be covered by all of you.

 

I typically use only 1-2 eyepieces and keep one in my hand or coat pocket; everything else is in the closed cases just to make sure nothing "walks away". Additionally, the cases are under the tripod within my sight. 

 

Get ready to say, "Please don't touch the scope or eyepiece." repeatedly, even to adults. Hopefully, they will also convey that to their kids. A small ladder or step stool is great both for kids and shorter adults.

 

Even though it does add to the stuff you would need to take, I recommend a EQ mount with a power supply- more time interacting with people and less having to realign the scope to the target. 


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#13 SporadicGazer

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Posted 29 January 2024 - 06:14 PM

  ... Get ready to say, "Please don't touch the scope or eyepiece." repeatedly, even to adults. Hopefully, they will also convey that to their kids. A small ladder or step stool is great both for kids and shorter adults. ...

The folding medium step stool with hand rail, as Alexander suggested in post #4, gives everyone something to grab to steady themselves, even if they don't need to use the steps.


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#14 E-Ray

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Posted 30 January 2024 - 12:22 AM

I've been actively doing sidewalk astronomy for over 10 years. I typically participate in 20+ events each year in Central Texas and when traveling. 

My 3 recommendations are:

  1) use 2" eyepieces if possible. Inexperienced guests often have a hard time on seeing objects in 1.25" eyepieces

  2) have a step ladder for children and short people

  3) put phosphorescent tape on the focuser knob and tripod legs. That makes it easy for people to find the knob and avoid bumping into the legs.

Regards, Ed


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#15 Sebastian_Sajaroff

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Posted 31 January 2024 - 11:52 AM

Pay attention to elders as well.
They may stumble or fall, and some of them won’t be able to distinguish faint objects.
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#16 Classic8

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Posted 06 February 2024 - 02:50 PM

There aren't many of them nowadays but I have the best luck with a mount that tracks but isn't goto - like a SCT or Mak on a wedge. It wouldn't be comfortable for certain parts of the northern sky but if just looking at planets or the moon the eyepiece is usually in a comfortable position. Still would need a small stepstool with a rail for smaller children. If someone grabs the telescope and moves it is isn't hard to get it realigned. And I don't have to keep moving the scope all the time.

 

In my opinion it's nice when someone has a small, relatively inexpensive scope. Many club members bring their own large scopes and since people like to know how much their scope cost, it's good to not give people the impression that they need a $4000 scope to look at the moon or planets.


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