Rescuing Public Astronomy from the Clouds

(Photo of event participant holding a "comet" at a clouded-out star party hosted by STARS in McAllen, Texas. Photo Courtesy of Dana Schultz)

Part of the fun of amateur astronomy is sharing the wonder of the night sky, but what do you do with a group in daylight, in cloudy weather or both? Our answer is break out the props.

The Night Sky Network supplies member clubs with a variety of teaching tools for all seasons. Barbara Geigle of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society found them useful at the Harvest Moon Balloon Festival, in Hazleton Pennsylvania.

"Due to the remnants of Hurricane Ivan hitting Friday into Saturday, we did not get set up until late Saturday afternoon," said Geigle. "As it stayed cloudy, I had my laptop set up with the 3D New Worlds Atlas and the Four Ways to Find a Planet video." With tools from the Night Sky Network she was also able to demonstrate how astronomers find planets beyond our solar system by their wobbles.

In McAllen, Texas, John Gerling was also able to ad lib with teaching tools from PlanetQuest and ideas from the Night Sky Network discussion board.

"It was totally ovecast the entire evening so we could not use the telescopes," said Gerling. "Fortunately, we were able to use some of the PlanetQuest tools to demonstrate to those that came anyway. We also made 'mini' comets." an idea he came across on a Night Sky Network discussion board (see links at bottom of article) that were a hit.

In Wisconsin, the Starsplitters of Wyalusing were supposed to have an observing session for the Prairie du Chien Girl Scouts, but rain & fog drove the program indoors. The unfortunate weather provided a perfect segue for the club's Night Sky Network Coordinator, Mark Otteson, to share the presentation "Why do we put telescopes in space?"

If you are looking for someone to share astronomy in any weather, click here to see the USA map showing locations of our affiliate clubs. If you would like tools to weather proof your club, submit an application to the Night Sky Network.

Here are some links to fully tested Comet Activities mentioned in the article:
Let's Cook up a Comet (Dennis Schatz - Pacific Science Center
Scale Model of a Comet (Mary Urquhart of NASA/Ames)