Sharing the Wow!
I've often said that Observing is half "Wow!", half 'sharing the "Wow!"' What keeps us hauling our scopes out to dark skies and to public gatherings, like the 100+ Star Parties the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) enables every year, what sustains and inspires us, is seeing children and adults connect to the universe: "It's real, it's right there! I had no idea!"
Sustaining the Wow!
When a thrilled family wanders away looking up, I am always plagued by the worry "When is the next time they will look through a scope?" and "if they buy a scope, will it be one that is good for them?"
In December 2010, I was notified by my employer of some available grant money. Shortly thereafter an article appeared in an astronomy magazine on the New Hampshire Astronomical Society's Library Telescope Program. As they say: Eureka! My goals included:
- implementing telescope sharing programs at a couple of local schools
- providing on-site telescope expertise and support to sustain the programs
- providing a website to share observing and equipment skills (http://GoOutLookUp.net)
- providing enough appropriate on-line content to enable others to start their own programs
I picked my kindergartner's school, Curie Elementary and Mission Bay High School as initial recipients of telescopes. A shareable telescope for use in bright and dark skies has a unique combination of requirements. The Orion Starblast 6i seemed to be the best scope for our needs.
I was able to pick up Curie's Starblast in time to bring it to their Annual Astronomy Night staffed by SDAA. In addition to my Orion XT12g and XT8i (shown to the right), the club manned seven other scopes, which were pointing to Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, the Double Cluster and other bright sky objects. I walked around the setups holding the new Starblast over my head, shouting "You can check this scope out from the library!"
We host in-person training after our monthly PTA meetings; trainees can then reserve one of the scopes (we now have two). The in-person training takes about 15 minutes (which isn't really necessary, because everything we train is on the website, including video. It does give families an opportunity to ask questions and to use the scope outside afterwards). Families are able to check out the scope for a week from the school library during the school year. The scopes are also used for organized events such as the annual "Curie Campout" which has 27 families this year looking forward to using both scopes.
Spreading the Wow!
The website has a lot of information gleaned from meeting the needs of the Curie program. In addition to information on how to use the equipment and learn the sky, there is information on how to start new telescope programs. It will also be my focal point in soliciting grants for additional schools.