An AZ outreach report (long) and an invitation
Hey BBAA and VPAS
My Arizona club just had an interesting hybrid outreach event (more about how that went below). One of its components involved sharing live video images of celestial objects collected from our member’s home observatories. In our after-action assessment, it was brought up that we would benefit greatly by having someone in a more easterly time zone that could share objects from a nighttime sky while we here are still in twilight. I’m writing to see if anyone on these lists would like to participate. It would involve joining our Zoom lineup at about 10pm EDT on Thursday May 20 and sharing a live video feed from your telescope for the benefit of our Arizona audience. If you think that would be fun, and are willing to do it, please contact me off-list (or on-list for that matter).
Out here, COVID has resulted in our shut down of outreach activities for the past year. HAC is rather different for two main reasons. First, this being in large part a retirement town, the majority of our members are older and less prone to risk exposure. Probably more relevant is the fact that living in SE Arizona, most of our active members have backyard observatories and get all the observing time they want. Our outreach events are more a sacrifice of observing time rather than an observing opportunity. Most of our outreach is done at the Patterson Observatory, or at Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Being on the UArizona campus, we were guided by university policy that prohibited group events at Patterson and the state park prohibited large public gatherings as well. And, with schools going to remote learning, we were effectively without any outreach requests. Then our members got used to not doing events and happy to stay home. Now, however, things are opening back up and I was anxious to finally re-open Patterson.
Our first Patterson Public Night in a year was this past Thursday and it was a hybrid event. In normal times, a Public Night is an open house – we have the 20-inch running in the dome (it can handle 12 guests at a time) and several smaller telescopes set up outside. People come and go as they please and we stay until we are devoid of guests. We do it at first quarter moon so we can start early. We normally get 40- 60 people. For this event, however, we felt it was necessary to limit attendance to about 40 and required people to register in advance. (We ended up with 7 members and 35 guests at the observatory). Since the dome is rather confined, we opted out of using the main telescope. That scope has been involved in a research program and has been running every night since before Christmas anyway and so we decided to not interrupt that effort.
We had a companion event at the Sierra Vista library at the same time. Two members hosted an audience of about 30 more people there who participated in the event through a zoom feed.
Patterson is owned by a foundation (the University South Foundation) and I enlisted the foundation’s director of operations to act as Zoom host and master of ceremonies. She does a lot of public interactions and while not an astronomer, she did a good job for us. We started about 6:45 (we’re on standard time and its dark about 8). To kick things off, I did a 5-minute introduction on the history of the observatory and the club and then introduced our MC. One of our members at the library then gave a talk on the constellations that was shared on Zoom so that early arrivals at the observatory and people at home or at the library could watch. It was also shared live on the foundation’s Facebook page. Meanwhile we set up the telescopes. When the constellation talk was done, we had our pro-am guy talk for a few minutes on the Patterson’s observing campaign (doing follow-up photometry on TESS discoveries). So, our guests could listen to the talks in the classroom, browse the displays in Patterson’s mini science center, or hang out on the patio where we were showing the moon. After the talks, the Zoom/Facebook activity switched to our two members participating from their home observatories. They shared views of the moon until it got dark enough to show DSOs.
For the live event on the patio, I set up my 25-year-old Celestron Ultima 8 SCT with a borrowed ZWO 178C camera and displayed the moon on a laptop. Another member also displayed the moon on a laptop through a video attached to a C5. I enlisted a volunteer to keep my moon vid going and ran my Obsession 18, which was the only visual scope available during the event. That was fun, and I was even able to align and have the scope run. It’s sort of a running joke with my club members out here that every time I bring my 18 to Kartchner something prevents it from working (usually until all the guests are gone). This was actually the first time I brought that scope to Patterson and it did not suffer from the “Kartchner Curse”.
The computers on the patio were also on zoom and could switch back and forth between the moon video and the zoom broadcast.
I also had a PPT presentation running on a loop on a wide screen TV in the science center – it displayed astro-images taken by our members. Guests were also given guided tours into the dome a few at a time with our researcher explaining how the scope runs and the data is collected and shared.
We had a few technical glitches and mis-cues but all in all the event ran fine and was very well received. We’ve had lots of great feedback and got a couple of new members out of it.
If you think you’d like to be our “East Coast Early Show” in May please let me know.