Discover the Universe (and art) in Charlottetown

Posted by Sarah Scoles
on Thursday, September 19, 2013

Explore the universe. But not right this second. // Keith Cooper/CAS
Science and art mesh well together, contrary to what you may have heard, and astronomy and art are particularly well-matched. After all, what’s more aesthetically pleasing or philosophically provocative than a look light-years into the distance?

With this in mind, the Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown took their skills and scopes to the Art in the Open festival on Prince Edward Island last month. The event in this Canadian province brings together local artists, artisans, and — at least this year — astronomers. Armed with telescopes, brochures, guides, and magazines, the Sidewalk Astronomers gave the star-gazers clear views of the night sky. Below is leader Keith Cooper’s account of the evening.

The entire event was a major success. Several of the art exhibits were space-themed, and our little sidewalk astronomy group fit right in. Skies were cloudy early in the day but cleared in mid-afternoon. Winds were calm, unusual for here, and the temperatures were balmy. It was just a perfect day and night for looking to the skies.

Solar observing at its finest. // Andy Reddin
I set up my LUNT 60mm PTHa solar scope at about 4 p.m. and had traffic to the eyepiece almost immediately. As I had arranged for a helper, I was able to set up my CPC 1100 XLT nearby and allowed it to acclimatize for the evening skies. One of the more avid enthusiasts of our informal sidewalk astronomers group came by with his 8-inch Skywatcher Dobsonian as dusk approached and joined in the little star party. Shortly after, another member came by with his Meade ETX.

All evening long, we had people coming to the eyepieces. Festival organizers estimate 4,000 people attended the event, which ran from 4 p.m to midnight.  By our count — and we could not keep an accurate tally — more than 300 came to our telescopes. We were just too occupied with showing people the Sun, Saturn, and the Moon to keep an accurate count. Many people asked questions (some of which we could actually answer), and we heard a lot of the "oohs" and "ahhs," which is music to a sidewalk astronomer’s ears.

I had managed to persuade Lire La Nature/Astronomie Plus of Montreal to donate a prize for a drawing. The two binoculars we gave away were very much appreciated and were a nice touch for our little star party.

I finally shut down my CPC at midnight, even though we still had some late-night people coming by to observe the Moon.

A child gets a nice view through a Dobsonian telescope. // Keith Cooper
It was a great event, and organizers have already told me that our participation was a hit. They want us back for next year's festival! From this event, I have already had several people ask about buying telescopes and joining our sidewalk astronomy group, so this may very well have been a good catalyst for growth.

All in all, the festival star party was fun. We got a tremendous amount of satisfaction from showing people things in the sky, and the public received some super views of celestial objects and great resource material. I want to thank you for your support and hope that next year, I can count on your organization once again.

We look forward to hearing about future collaborations between the humanities and the sciences, Keith, and about the most interesting things the raffle winners saw with their binoculars.


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