Discover the Universe: Dallas, Texas

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Thursday, February 16, 2012

With the arrival of winter and the bustle of the holidays, it’s no wonder most astronomy clubs have entered a hibernation phase with regards to public events. But, to kick off our 2012 updates about Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program, Sidewalk Stargazer Earl Foster took advantage of a warmer climate and a form of observing less prone to the cold: solar observing. As Earl explains:

Earl Foster hosted a sidewalk astronomy event on Groundhog Day 2012 near Dallas, Texas, allowing passersby great views of and information on the Sun. // Photo by Earl Foster
My Sidewalk Stargazer program is all about showing and teaching people how our local star influences our lives on a daily basis, and it’s my pleasure to support the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project and the Discover the Universe program. All events are free to the public and normally held in public places, such as outside coffee shops and in parks, where plenty of people gather. (For more information and to schedule an event, please visit www.sidewalkstargazer.com.)

I hosted this year’s first session at my place of work just north of Dallas, Texas, on Groundhog Day, February 2. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which supposedly means six more weeks of winter, but the shadows we saw meant the Sun was shining brightly. During just a few hours, about 50 people came by and viewed the Sun’s surface and atmosphere using two solar telescopes. Lots of clouds dotted the sky, but they seemed to move around the Sun, or were thin enough that the star’s light could blast right through them. During the rare few minutes of waiting for some thick patches to roll by, everyone took the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the previous week’s solar events, which caused a few impressive aurorae but also forced some airplanes to be rerouted (among other effects).

Observing the Sun, and anything that happens to be passing in front of it, can be a fascinating experience for anyone, from professional astronomers to beginners. // Photo by Earl Foster
Newbies and returning attendees alike had a great time. Listening to everyone’s “oohs” and “ahhs” as they saw their first sunspot, solar prominence, or solar flare is probably the most enjoyable part of the event for me. A minor solar flare occurred during our event, and through our discussions everybody understood its importance. Even veteran amateur solar astronomers like me still get the “wow” effect when looking at our closest star. Once you have seen the Sun up close and personal, you never look at other stars as simple points of light again. It is easy to imagine them as being alive, constantly changing, and always influencing their surrounding space. Overall, it was a successful event and everyone walked away with a smile, a better understanding of how the Sun influences our daily lives, and a cool pair of solar eclipse glasses.

That’s great news, Earl! Congratulations on helping bring the brighter side of astronomy to so many people and highlighting the importance of our local star. If you want to know how Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program can help your club, please email me at bandrews@astronomy.com.

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