The night sky has become a natural wonder that is often overlooked. For centuries humans looked to the sky for entertainment, knowledge, and have been captivated by its awesomeness. Many factors have contributed to the decline of this bewilderment; fast paced lifestyles remove us from our surroundings, electric lights erase our dark skies, and a ravaging hunger for instant entertainment have all distracted people from life’s simple pleasures. For the few who actively celebrate the night sky, one of the greatest joys is spreading that passion. Whether it is planting the seeds of curiosity in a young child’s mind, bringing the text of a college student’s books to life, or showing an adult something they’ve been missing in plain sight, celebrating the wonders of the night through public outreach realizes my passion for celestial observing while sharing the feelings of excitement, mystery, and wonder that I feel with another.
One October evening along the shores of Lake Erie, near Cleveland Ohio, a small group gathered to assist in an outreach program sponsored by the local Cleveland Metroparks. As the sky grew darker the crowd began to grow. The clear sky and pleasant fall weather had itself invited some parents with children, and had even coaxed some adults and seniors to come take a look. It was shaping up to be a wonderful evening of sharing the joy of observing.
The crowd quickly began stepping up to my eyepiece to experience the wonder of rediscovering an object they had been looking at their entire life, the moon, and were awed by the relief seen through the eyepiece. They mentioned how incredible it was to see the object up close, and were surprised at how much detail was truly visible. The crowd shuffled, and I shifted my telescope’s gaze to Jupiter, and a young boy and his mother stepped up to enjoy the view. After verbally setting the frame for the boy and adjusting my diagonal for his lesser stature I directed him towards the eyepiece for a moment he would hopefully recall throughout the rest of his life. He immediately got excited, looked up at me, and said, "Look at all the purple explosions!" I chuckled, quickly explained to him that it was the telescope causing the coloration, and let him and his mother enjoy another look. Just a few moments later our night came to an abrupt end when the wind changed, and a group of clouds coming off the lake seemed to appear over our heads from nowhere.
Outreach events are unique because each individual brings his or her collective and different knowledge to share with the community. The group pictured in the long-exposure photograph above is incredibly diverse, from an accountant, to an engineer, married couple, retiree, and research astronomer. This evening turned out to be a true celebration of the night sky, spreading excitement and knowledge across a broad group of people, and at an entertainment level only achievable by the wonders of the natural world.