Discover the Universe: Santa Barbara, California

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One of the reasons Astronomy chose the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit (SBAU) as its 2010 Out-of-this-world Award winner was its clear dedication to outreach. That’s why I was happy, but not surprised, to see the group’s interest in joining Astronomy’s Discover the Universe program, which resulted in a recent success story. SBAU President Ruben Gutierrez elaborates:

The Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History together held an exciting event August 11 dedicated to the wonderful world of astronomy — an Astro-Vaganza! // all photos by Ruben Gutierrez
On August 11, the SBAU helped the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History put on a special event — not just its annual Astronomy Day, but its first “Astro-Vaganza”! Assuming visitors could get past Samson, the moving and roaring life-size Tyrannosaurus rex near the entrance, they would check in with “Mission Control” to get their “Mission Log.” Then, they’d take their log and “visit” all the planets in our solar system, via booths throughout the museum grounds. Each had information about its destination and activities to try, including a scale to tell attendees how much they’d weigh at the planet in question. The Mission Log also included directions to a workstation where SBAU or museum staff helped visitors assemble a free International Year of Astronomy Gallileoscope.

The museum turned over its entire outside grounds to astronomy, with special planetarium shows occurring throughout the day. Other sites featured our Out-of-this-world Award-winning UC2 fully transportable wheelchair-accessible telescope, an astronomical flea market where pre-owned telescopes and equipment were on sale at bargain prices, radio equipment demonstrations, hands-on activities like seltzer-powered rockets and remote-controlled robots, SBAU clothing sales, and delicious food (including astronaut ice cream). Once visitors completed their Mission Log, they could return to Mission Control and enter a raffle for 12 great prizes, with the grand prize being a deluxe 8-inch Dobsonian telescope.

Samson the Tyrannosaurus rex greeted Astro-Vaganza visitors (seen here taunting him with their popsicles) for a day of astronomy and science outreach.
SBAU members and museum staff worked for months preparing for Astro-Vaganza. We’d anticipated a large crowd, and a large crowd showed up. The visitors had a fantastic time learning and enjoying astronomy that day. The Astro-Vaganza grand finale was a star party that was practically standing-room only at times, due to the incredible response. The evening’s highlights included sighting some Perseid meteors, gazing at beautiful views of Saturn and Mars, and even spying a couple of Earth’s artificial satellites. Overall, Astro-Vaganza was a huge success enjoyed by all!

That sounds great, Ruben! Congratulations on hosting such a fun and complex event — as always, we’re glad we could help. If you want to know what Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program can do for your club, please email me at

Jenna Monteleone of Santa Barbara won the Astro-Vaganza Grand Prize, a deluxe 8-inch Dobsonian telescope. To enter, she first had to complete a “Mission Log” by “visiting” the solar system’s planets.

Among other activities and mementos, Astro-Vaganza visitors could put together and keep a free Galileoscope to continue their observations at home.

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