Calling all astronomy clubs! Astronomy magazine announces Discover the Universe program

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Help spread the fun of amateur astronomy! Astronomy magazine, in conjunction with the Astronomy Outreach Foundation, is announcing a new program of sponsoring star parties across the United States and the world. We would like to enlist you, experienced amateur astronomers and astronomy club members, as an army of enthusiasts to help spread the joy of amateur astronomy. Carl Sagan once told me that 99 percent of all human beings are born, go through their lives, and die without realizing their place in the cosmos around them. With the extraordinary and nearly constant breaking news in professional astronomy taking place every day, isn’t it high time to introduce the universe to a new generation?

Most people go through their lives on what amounts to a 2-D planet without realizing even the basics of where Earth is in the solar system, the essentials of what makes stars tick, the makeup of the Milky Way Galaxy, or the larger universe of billions of galaxies around them. The best way to bring astronomy awareness and enthusiasm to the people is to go to where the people are — cities. This means employing a technique so terrifically pioneered by California groups in the 1970s — sidewalk astronomy.

To help spread the fun of astronomy, Astronomy magazine is announcing our Discover the Universe program, in which we are asking for volunteers. Astronomy club members who care about sharing our hobby are asked to organize and put on star parties in their areas around the country and around the world, and doing so in cities, right on the sidewalks where lots of people flow, is the ideal place. If the targets are few — the Moon, a planet or two, a double star, perhaps — so be it. Showing people their first “live” glimpse of the heavens and explaining that the light they are seeing has traveled a huge distance through space before striking their eye will turn them on.

If your astronomy club is interested in volunteering in the effort to spread our hobby, I ask you to contact Associate Editor Bill Andrews at bandrews@astronomy.com. We will be happy to discuss the program more with you. To support your star parties, Astronomy magazine will help publicize the events with our own networks and aid you with local media contacts in your area. We will also send you a Star Party Action Kit, consisting of brochures, magazines, and premium booklets that explain the exciting world of astronomy to newcomers.

This activity will no doubt help the vitality of your astronomy club. I'm sure you have noted the “graying” of the hobby as the majority of young people these days are captivated by entertainment rather than science. The February 2011 issue of Astronomy contains a special article, “Why Gen X and Y should care about astronomy” by Karen Jennings. Reprints of this story will be included in the star party kit. I am asking you to help spread the excitement of astronomy for the good of future generations, too, who we hope will embrace and become experts on serious subjects like astronomy, for the good of the vast future.

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