The first International Sidewalk Astronomy Night will be held on Saturday, May 19, 2007. This is a new initiative, not to be confused with International Astronomy Day, which took place on April 21.
The main difference between these two events is where they take place. On International Astronomy Day, clubs, observatories, and planetariums open their doors to the public for a variety of events. The catch is that they take place on the organizations' home turf, and the public is expected to find out about these events, to seek them out. International Sidewalk Astronomy Night takes its cue from the John Dobson's original idea of Sidewalk Astronomy: taking telescopes to the people.
John Dobson, inventor of the Dobsonian telescope, had the idea back in 1968 of setting up telescopes where people congregate: on the streets of the city, in shopping mall parking lots, outside movie theatres, in city parks. This started originally in San Francisco, but the idea has spread widely. While often organized in clubs, it can also be undertaken by one or two enthusiastic amateurs on their own. For example, a number of us have used Hallowe'en as a time to set up our telescopes on about the only night of the year when there are large numbers of pedestrians in suburban neighborhoods.
This year on Saturday May 19, the Sidewalk Astronomers www.sidewalkastronomers.us are inviting amateur astronomers around the world to set up their telescopes in places where people congregate.
May 19 should be a comfortably mild night in most locations. Venus and a four-day-old Moon will be close to conjunction in the west, with Saturn high above them, so there will be plenty to look at even in the most light-polluted locations. Deep sky objects are usually less popular with the public, especially in the face of light pollution, but the globular clusters M3 and M13 might be worth a look.
If you've never used your telescope to show off the sky to the public, this will be a wonderful opportunity to "share the skies"!
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.