Dean Regas, a co-host of Star Gazers, is crazy about astronomy outreach, just like the rest of the NASA Night Sky Network club members. Star Gazer, a weekly series on naked eye astronomy, was hosted by the late Jack Horkheimer, who gained a loyal following and reached thousands via PBS. Star Gazer is continuing with Dean Regas and James Albury hosting, and Marlene Hidalgo doing online programs. The program will be called Star Gazers.
The Cincinnati Observatory Center has been a NASA Night Sky Network club member since 2005. Dean is a contributor to Sky and Telescope Magazine and Astronomy Magazine, and in 2009 he won the Astronomy Magazine "Out-of-this-World" Award for astronomy education. He's also a Solar System Ambassador. Dean has been the Outreach Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory Center since 2000. Find him blogging weekly about astronomy/mythology at DeanSpace.
Jessica Santascoy, Astronomy Outreach Coordinator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, had a chat with Dean that we hope you'll enjoy!
1. How would you advise someone who is interested in doing what you're doing (hosting an astronomy show) to get started?
For me it all starts with a passion for the subject. I really love the field of astronomy. In fact I consider it more than a career - it's my lifestyle. I'm always looking up and even plan my vacations around visiting Observatories or viewing eclipses and other exotic events. I think this passion for the subject comes through in any presentation that I do: whether teaching one-on-one or across the country through the Star Gazer TV shows.
2. A lot of our members are interested in outreach and you're an outreach professional. What are a couple of the most important outreach issues right now?
The best components to delivering an outreach program are a telescope and a clear sky. What we've learned at the Cincinnati Observatory is that a telescope becomes a focal point, the icebreaker to talk astronomy with any group. Whether you set it up on a sidewalk and show passers-by or bring it to a set program, church, scout meeting, school, or star party, the telescope does 75% of the work. I believe that almost everyone has an interest in space and showing them the real thing should be part of any outreach program.
3. How do we get people to develop an enduring love of astronomy?
Show them Saturn in a telescope. When I first saw Saturn in a telescope I was hooked. Even with sky simulation software, videos, apps and everything, nothing compares to actually putting your eye up to an eyepiece and venturing through the looking glass. Even better, if you have a small group, let each person move the telescope and "discover" Saturn.
4. What are some of the challenges of outreach and how have you met them?
Astronomy is not covered much in Ohio schools. The subject matter doesn't show up in many science standards. So we've come up with some creative ways to tie astronomy into other subjects. Our constellation mythology program ties nicely into language arts, our Greek astronomy program delves into math and our Renaissance Astronomy program comes at astronomy through history. This has expanded our outreach audience beyond science teachers.
5. What's the most exciting outreach project you've worked on?
In 2009 we started a program called 40 Galileos where we trained 40 teams of teachers, educators, and general public how to use an 8" reflecting telescope. In addition we trained them how to give outreach programs and share their telescopes with the public. After they took the classes and gave at least 2 programs with their telescopes, they owned the telescopes. And these are big scopes (Orion XT8s). The 40 teams have since delivered over 250 outreach programs and reached over 11,000 people. The first year went so well that we wanted to continue. We were fortunate enough to be selected for a NASA EP/O grant which funds the awarding of 60 more telescopes to 60 teams through 2012 (20 telescopes per year 2010, 2011, 2012 which added to the original 40, makes 100 total). By the end of 2012 we'll have 100 teams sharing the wonders of the universe to everyone in the region. By then we can call Cincinnati, "Telescope Town."
6. Tell us the story of how you got hooked on astronomy.
In college I studied to be a high school history teacher. I completed my student teaching and then decided I did NOT want to be a high school history teacher. So I worked part time in Nature Education for the Cincinnati Parks. At my second park, they had a small 18-seat planetarium with a Spitz A-1 machine. My new boss was very excited to see me because he decided that I would be giving the planetarium shows - and my first one was the next week. What!?! I didn't know anything about space. So I had to learn very quickly and what I found when the stars came onto the ceiling, that THIS was the field for me. It hit me like a religious moment. And I just dove in. I measure my life in two distinct time periods: Before Astronomy and After Astronomy.
7. What's it like doing outreach at such a cool & historically significant place, the Cincinnati Observatory?
When I turn up the driveway and see the gorgeous building at the end of the residential street I feel so lucky to work here. It's like stepping back in time to see how these instruments worked in the 19th century. I'm glad to hear you describe it as "cool" because it's a rare institution that can be both old and cool and I think the staff and volunteers have made the Cincinnati Observatory both.
8. Anything else you want to tell us?
"Keep looking up!"
Are you a stargazer or do you want to be one? Get Go StarGaze, our iPhone app that helps you find star parties, solar viewings, and other sky-related events! It's not a map of the sky, it's an app that helps you find astronomy clubs and events in your area so you can see the universe through a telescope!
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific manages the NASA Night Sky Network.