Taking it to the Streets: Astronomy in Public Spaces
On December 15th, 15 amateurs with the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas demonstrated the concept of telescopes as time-machines sharing 50 Passports Through Time with members of the public attending the Frisco Star Fest. Photo by David C. Hutchison.

Amateur astronomy clubs join NASA's Night Sky Network because the program rewards them with materials for sharing NASA programs and the science of astronomy with the public. The other part of this partnership, however, are the club volunteers and members themselves who bring their telescopes to public places and share their enthusiasm and interest person-to-person.

A frequent question asked by visitors at the eyepiece is, "How far can you see with your telescope?" Distances in astronomy are so vast, that it is often difficult to put them in perspective. Night Sky Network clubs have an edge for explaining these concepts. The Telescopes as Time Machines: Passport through Time is just one activity in an outreach toolkit called "Our Galaxy, Our Universe" designed to help amateur groups explain the size, scale and structure of the universe.

The Passport activity divides telescopic objects into three categories: objects in the Solar System, objects outside the Solar System but still within the Milky Way Galaxy, and galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Participants are given a handout and challenged to view at least one object from each category during the course of a public event with telescopes.

The Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society of Murfreesboro, Tennessee used the excercise at its December outing. "We viewed the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, and Albireo for our objects in the Milky Way," according to the club's Night Sky Network Coordinator, "and finished the evening with the Andromeda Galaxy."

Amateur astronomers participating in the Network can use this and other hands-on activities at the eyepiece to truly bring the universe directly to the people. By sharing an overview and passports, visitors are also more informed and engaged as they move among telescopes at a star party. Whether done formally or informally, this exercise creates learning and sharing opportunities that enrich outreach experiences for amateurs and the public alike.

To find a Night Sky Network partner near you, go to our club locator page