Auburn Astronomical Society

Educational Outreach

As part of our mandate to promote amateur astronomy, and as a service to the community, the Auburn Astronomical Society  makes itself available to school and scout groups, to supplement their classroom studies with some real hands-on observing.  Those of us who have participated in these events can attest to the positive impact that we made.   It's rewarding to think that many of these kids will hold the memory of seeing Saturn for the first time throughout their lives. And, who knows, maybe even take up the hobby at some future date. Don't you remember the first time you saw Saturn?

Emerald Mountain Head Elementary School, Montgomery
St. Bede School, Montgomery
Opelika Middle School Auburn Forest Ecology Preserve  Eastwood Christian School
Maxwell Air Force Base Ogletree Elementary School, Auburn Prattville Fellowship of Home Educators
Horseshoe Bend Camp ASCCA  Blondheim Star Gaze
CPODD Retreat at Children's Harbor
 Space Camp Traveling Classroom
  Alabama Nature Center
Blount Elementary School
Boy Scout Troop #605
St. James Webelos
Camp Hobbs - Powder Horn Leadership Conference
Homeschool Group at Wind Creek

From someone who has done a LOT of public star parties over the years, here are a few guidelines.

1. Do NOT leave the scope unattended for even a moment. Period. Not so much because of the danger of theft, but because that shiny, high-tech looking thing is an awful temptation for inquisitive fingers big and small. If you have to leave for a moment, station a buddy at the scope to watch things. I generally stake down the tripod legs with tent stakes and line, too, just in case.

2. Be sure you have a dewshield on the scope. If you don't, fingers WILL touch your corrector before the evening is over. 

3. After you finish your goto alignment, remove the finder and store it. Otherwise, lots of little and big folks will yearn to look through it (it looks like a telescope), and will grab it in the process, probably ruining your alignment.

4. Limit yourself to one or two low/medium focal length eyepieces with good eye relief. When and eyepiece is not in your scope, it goes in your pocket. This will ensure nothing walks away.

5.  Put rubber eyegards on the eyepieces. And have some alcohol wipes at hand for wiping the mascara and other gunk off 'em.

6.  Provide a stepstool of some kind for the little folks, and help 'em up. These are your most important customers--cater to 'em.

7. Your LX200 GPS draws about 1.5 amps while slewing, and much less while tracking. However, a good decent-capacity battery or battery pack is a good investment. I use a 17ah jump start battery pack with a 12vdc output. This will run my Nexstar 11 GPS all night.

8. Make sure you're really familiar with alignment procedures if this is a fairly new scope. Also be sure you know how to do a non-gps alignment in case satellite visibility is a problem in this location.

9. Objects. _Have a list made up before you go_. Focus on the bright and splashy. The Ring is a fairly good object, but the public, and especially the little folk, will have trouble seeing it. Bright, small open clusters are good. So is the Moon if it's in the sky (that'w what the public and the youngsters REALLY want to see rather than deep sky objects). I'd pick a night where there's some Moon. You can do deep sky stuff after it sinks into the west. Another thing that the little people want to see BADLY, believe it or not, is just a bright star. Show em Deneb, followed by the lustrous double, Albireo. M13 is probably bright enough to impress 'em. The Double-double is another winner.

10. Be firm, but understanding, with young and old. As your next customer steps up to the eyepiece repeat: "Just LOOK; don't TOUCH."

11. Know what you're talking about. Wanna be embarrassed? Stand there with egg on your face when Little Miss asks you how far away M13 is if you don't know the answer! Have vital statistics for all the objects on your list at hand. Sure, you can get this off the autostar, but that means fumbling with buttons. Much better to be familar with the statistics.

Let me also mention that holding public star parties is one of the most if not the most important and rewarding things an amateur can do. With the start of the new academic year, I urge everybody to encourage their local club to hold public star parties. 

I THINK that just about covers it... :-)

Rod Mollise
Author of:_Choosing and Using a Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope_