Sunday, April 13, 2008

2nd Annual International Sidewalk Astronomy Night

Looking up at the International Space Station

Session name: 20080412.1930
Location: Central Park, Great Lawn perimeter sidewalk along the south side. Common name is Turtle Pond Observatory (TPO).
Hosts: Tom C. with Fujinon 17x60 binoculars & myself with Takahashi FS102, 4" refractor
Number of passersby: ~100 persons, very possibly more; steady stream persisted for about an 60 ~ 90 minutes.
Object highlights in telescope and binoculars: Moon, Saturn
Object highlights naked eye: Zodiac, constellations, planets, ISS

The International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN) for the second year in a row was a treat to all who passed by in Central Park. Most of the effort in organizing the global event for ISAN originates with the Hollywood-based Sidewalk Astronomers organization; however, leadership and membership span the globe.

Tom Clabough & I shared views of solar system objects (Moon, Saturn, & Mars) to some 100+ people. We described planetary motions, relative positions, and answered many, many questions shot out from the crowd. We acknowledged their fascination and awe when they looked at Saturn with disbelief, when they scanned their eyes across the Moon's dramatic face. The International Space Station was a cool event that all could see while marveling at the hand of man. Other times, while waiting in line for the eyepiece, we presented tours of the constellations of the Spring and early Summer skies, tracing out the brighter star.

To say that this event was fun and rewarding is an understatement. This second year in a row that Tom & I held court at Turtle Pond Observatory (TPO) reinforces how satisfying public outreach can be to hosts and visitors. Tom attended with his tripod-mounted 16x70 Fujinon binoculars and I brought the 4" refractor. The refractor with a diagonal is very handy to accommodate observers of all heights; a twist of the diagonal raises and lowers the eyepiece even to level of small children.

At various times, Tom & I performed sketches derived from the Night Sky Network (NSN) playbook to describe to the folks what they were seeing and help them synthesize it more readily by demonstration. Our extemporaneous activities were congruent with some of the lesson plans in the NSN Shadows & Silhouettes (Standing in the shadow of Earth, Why does the Moon Have Phases, Librations of the moon, and Observing the Moon). Key topics included concepts that described what is night, the Moon's phases and motions, and observing the Moon. Some were surprised to realize the Moon's far side receives light. Libration was favorable on the eastern limb so we spoke of the action and pointed out marial features along the limb.

I hadn't prepared any flyers but the NSN Moon Map could have come in handy. This year I did not prepare handouts or ISAN flyers. Next year I'll make a point to have them prepared early and ready prior to the scheduled night. A flyer provides ancillary information, a diversion while waiting, responds to some of the more frequently asked questions, and offers an opportunity to provide a message that persists beyond the shared moments under the dark sky.

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