A Brief Guide to Public Observing

Presenting the wonders of the night sky to the general public can be a rewarding experience. The smile on a child’s eyes they first time the see the rings of Saturn or the craters of The Moon is a truly a wonderful thing.

Princess at the Telescope
A Halloween princess watching moonrise through the telescope
Public observing can also be a daunting challenge to the inexperienced public presenter. A little preparation and thought can prevent a lot of trouble and make it a better experience for both the presenter and the public.

I am attempting to put down a few of the things I have learned in over a decade of hauling a telescope around. In that time I have used countless schoolyards as observatories, set my gear up at posh resorts, on the tee line of a driving range, outside the front door of Wal-Mart, across the fence from cows at a dude ranch, parking lots, city sidewalks and grassy lawns, under conditions both perfect and absolutely lousy for doing astronomy. Dealt with everything from drunks to two year olds, and I still do this regularly… It is worth every young smile!

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Halloween Sidewalk Astronomy

For many years it has been my tradition to setup a telescope on Halloween. A tradition I have inherited from other amateur astronomers, a tradition I intend to continue.

Princess at the Telescope
A Halloween princess looking through the telescope while we were set up at the King’s Shops
Unfortunately there are few trick-or-treaters in my own neighborhood. We are somewhat at the end of the street and at the top of the hill.

Looking for an alternative to setting up in the driveway, as I have in the past, I instead arranged to setup at the King’s Shops in the resort at the bottom of the hill. The shops make an evening of it, with various entertainment and activities arranged for children and adults. Contacting the Kings Shops management I was able to arrange permission to set up a few telescopes for the evening.

Cliff and Maureen volunteered to join me, bringing more gear. We had a few other club folks drop by. Also helping out were Dean and Melinda Ketelsen, fellow Tucsonans who share the Halloween telescope tradition and happen to be visiting for the week.

Unfortunately clouds hampered us in the early evening. As usual these cleared as the night progressed so that by 8:30pm we had a mostly clear sky. Moonrise provided a beautiful view, followed by Jupiter. There was a steady flow of folks checking out the telescopes. Princesses, Batman, ninjas and more had views of Alberio, Andromeda and other celestial objects. A fun evening for everyone, mixing in just a bit of science education, just what sidewalk astronomy is all about.