Reaching out with a Novel Venue (October 2009)
TriState Astronomers is a group of amateur astronomers from the area surrounding Hagerstown, Maryland. Our membership includes amateur astronomers from Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. We began in 1985 and we all enjoy sharing the ageless wonders of the night sky. (See http://www.tristateastronomers.org/)
Since one of our primary goals is to provide free public outreach, we have made presentations to schools, libraries, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, country clubs, and youth groups and have held yearly public star parties at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. Besides using our own telescopes, we utilize materials from NASA sources, The Night Sky Network, Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope Magazine and develop our own presentations.
Most of those events are evening events. However, for the past four years we have been participating in a local daytime craft fair in Boonsboro MD. The craft fair lists 150 different vendors and boasts an attendance of 10,000 during the two-day event. (See: http://www.marylandmemories.org/boonsborodays)
Initially, we were unsure if Boonsboro Days would be a good venue. Some of our members wondered why we chose such an event. Our answer was, “What better way to reach a sector of the public that might not normally attend an astronomy only event?”. The number of visitors we had was a very pleasant surprise to us. We soon realized we made a good decision to approach the Boonsboro Days planning committee for permission to set up our displays and scopes to give the public the opportunity to view sunspots. They weren’t sure at first, and during the first discussion with them they asked, “You want to do what??”
During the first year we had few materials to hand out, some displays and only two scopes with solar filters to view sunspots (yes, there were sunspots that first year). By our fourth year we added 2 personal solar telescope (PSTs), a flat screen TV showing Hubble and other solar videos, numerous handouts such as posters, CD's, magnets, sky maps, IYA buttons, IYA stickers, solar glasses and other solar materials. This year we asked our visitors, "What is the name of the galaxy that we live in?" and handed Milky Ways bar for correct answers. Using a model of the Sun and Earth (1 cm scale) that was on display, they were also asked to take the model of the Earth and move it the correct distance from the Sun based on that scale. After their attempt, many were very surprised when we directed them to a second scale model of the sun, positioned on a telephone pole 360 feet away.
This year, in addition to viewing the sun, the public got a chance to view the moon and even Venus in the daylight! It was quite amazing to watch their reactions when they saw these objects through a telescope for the first time. Several remarked they look through our scopes every year. Of course, we did have some explaining to do when some looked through the solar scope and wondered aloud where the craters were. We quickly straightened them out on that. Over the years, I have been asked many times if I have been able to see Mars in August when it was supposedly larger than the moon (a popular myth) or how I became interested in Astrology.
This event has been tremendously successful. Each year the planning committee invites us to the next year’s event even before the current event is over. As a result of our Boonsboro event, the local library invited us to make a solar presentation. Even though that event was clouded out, we were able to observe the sun for a few minutes. And since it was the day after LCROSS crshed into the moon, we took the opportunity to show parts of "Lets Kick Up Some Moon Dust" and answer questions.
The thing is we stretched to find a new way and a new venue to reach the public: our participation in this daytime event has led to one of the most successful and rewarding events in our club’s history.
Special thanks to NASA for the all solar materials they provided for this years event and thanks to everyone who made materials available to us through the Night Sky Network.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACTIVITIES: If you use our SOHO images or movies, provide outreach and programs in the area of solar study, and would like to be considered for our Outreach Spotlight section, write to steele.hill[at]gsfc.nasa.gov with a brief overview of your efforts.If we think you'd make a good candidate, we will contact you.