Duke Skygawker of Barstronomy writes about the public outreach he does with his dobsonian telescope 'Big Red' in the middle of Columbus, Ohio.
It's called Barstronomy because that's where it mostly takes place; at taverns and music venues with an outdoor area, in the middle of the city in Columbus, Ohio. It began in my neighborhood at Woodlands Tavern, where I'd been a frequent attendee and sometime performer at their Wednesday Open Mic. It began with a dare.
While at Woodlands Tavern, I naturally talked about my astronomy hobby, and it was only a matter of time before a friend dared me to bring my dobsonian telescope to the bar and set it up on the patio. When I did, the response was greater and more positive than I'd ever anticipated, and that led to the founding of Barstronomy.
Since that first night three years ago, Barstronomy has been featured at Rumba Cafe, Skully's Music-Diner, and Brothers Drake Meadery as well, all in Columbus. The outreach also covers community and music festivals and other public events. If you note some similarity with John Dobson's "sidewalk astronomy," you're paying attention! In the "sidewalk astronomy" concept, you take astronomy to the people, rather than making the people come to the astronomy. The people just happen to be where astronomy is happening. So I just took astronomy off Dobson's sidewalk and onto the bar patio, and was surprised by the enthusiastic response.
Of course, Barstronomy also participates in more "traditional" astronomy outreach, through my local club, the Columbus Astronomical Society, at their site, the Perkins Observatory in Delaware OH. I also do outreach at schools, libraries, parks, and community centers. That type of outreach is definitely more common, and can have great impact. For example, Perkins is a "real" observatory with a (very small) staff and a wonderful building and history, and these aspects of attendees' visits to a program add much to their experience and perception. Traditional astronomy outreach programs such as these are generally at a darker site than downtown, and the expectations of the public and the astronomers presenting are not the same as those encountering a telescope at a music event or pub, in ways I'll explore in a future entry.
But getting out in person, in public, isn't the only way astronomy outreach happens. Books and other publications were the first written outreach form, and still figure prominently as outreach, but probably tend to reach mostly those already possessing interest in the subject. Written outreach has also evolved to include all things Internet and World Wide Web, including social media (like Twitter and Facebook), agency and observatory websites, club websites, and astronomy blogs.
NASA, magazines like Astronomy and Sky & Telescope, observatories, astronomy clubs and individuals (think Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others) have all embraced this approach to get the word out and help popularize the beauty of looking at the sky. The goal of this outreach may come from an internal passion, but may also inspire a certain number of people to be more directly involved, either as a hobbyist, a professional astronomer, or simply as an informed advocate. Outreach isn't important to every amateur or professional astronomer. Some of them (you?) prefer to do your observing alone, at home, or only with a few fellow enthusiasts.
But somehow, something or someone reached out to you to get you started - a parent, a program, a class, or just a look up at the night sky when you were in a contemplative, receptive mood. And you reached out in response, with your curiosity and talent, to see what it was all about. That's outreach in its best form!
What does astronomy outreach mean to you? Share your thoughts in the Review section of this article.
Tony Miller, aka "Duke Skygawker," is a native Ohioan who watched the sky from an early age but never took up astronomy as a hobby until well into his 40s. His professional background is in broadcast media, journalism, and performing arts, which have certainly influenced his involvement in astronomy outreach. He can be found on Twitter (Barstronomy on Twitter) and on Facebook (Duke Skygawker), as well as at Columbus, Ohio music venues and rural dark-sky sites.