Stars In Your Eyes
April 10, 2008 7:36 PM   Subscribe

See Saturn this Saturday April 12 is the second annual International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, a worldwide event coordinated by the Sidewalk Astronomers. The group, founded in 1968 by John Dobson (subject of this documentary), is dedicated to a sort of guerrilla astronomy -- experienced stargeeks bringing their really good telescopes out to places where people are. So even on your way to the bars, the shows, and the honky-tonk you can see stuff like this and this - like these people did.
posted by Miko (16 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome idea. And even with the worst light pollution -- streetlights, city lights, etc -- you can generally see planets just fine. However I don't have the cajones to show up all geeked up in an area where a bunch of hip people are spending Friday night. I guess there's safety in geek numbers, though.
posted by crapmatic at 7:39 PM on April 10, 2008

I concur... awesome idea! Anything like this being planned for Brisbane? If so, I'm so there.
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:55 PM on April 10, 2008

Went camping a few weeks ago and it was beautiful to be out in the middle of nowhere and see the full beauty of the stars. Best part was the sky wasn't jet black but a deep, rich blue that looked warm and alive.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 PM on April 10, 2008

Anything like this being planned for Brisbane?

I started to try and do a roundup of places that are having some event, but since it's worldwide, it started getting too hard. I'd recommend Googling your place name or country name and "sidewalk astronomy." That'll reveal if there's a club around, and usually the clubs appear to have email addresses so you can write and ask if they haven't got an up to date events section. Which many don't seem to.

I came across one blog for Central Park in NYC which details some of the features that may be visible.

At my last job, we had an amazing astronomer who was really able to inspire wonder and awe in people with telescopy. He was doing sidewalk astronomy without the support of any kind of group - just for the fun of it - years ago, already. I'll never forget when I walked out of an evening event at work, with my parents in tow, and he was set up to show the rings of Saturn. There they were, plain as day...rings. It was awesome. He also hooked me up with some great advice about that 2003 meteor shower at which you could see, like 100 meteors an hour in the Northeast if you stayed up all night (which I then did), and also, moons of Jupiter.

I think people are really willing to be enchanted by astronomy. We just don't come across it all that often, and it's easy to forget that stuff out in space is real, not just nifty pictures on NOVA. SO this sidewalk idea strikes just the right note - get people where they are already going. They probably won't trek out to your big-time observatory, but if they're out and someone says "Hey, wanna see Mars?" they of course will say "Yeah!"
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Back in 1999, I paid $1 to a sidewalk astronomer at an outdoor mall. He had a telescope that looked like a howitzer and a small white sign that simply read "Saturn." I looked in the sky at what the telescope was aimed at, and sure enough, there was a fat, bright star-looking thing hanging in the sky. I would never have given it a second glance, and this guy is saying it's Saturn. No way.

I looked in the viewfinder. There it was. Saturn. Great shot of the rings. Just like you see in the photographs.

"Holy shit!" I said. "It's Saturn!"
"Yep. And see that small white dot next to it?" he said.
"That's Titan," he said. "It's a little bigger than the Moon."

I suddenly felt very small in the universe. I stepped away and looked at Saturn hanging in the sky. My friends walked up. Could you see anything, they asked?

That's was hands-down the coolest dollar I've ever spent, I said.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I totally ran into an event like this unexpectedly a number of years ago and it was the best thing ever. All the better being a surprise. Magical.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:02 PM on April 10, 2008

I've run into this twice, once in San Francisco and once in New Orleans. The first time in Frisco was indeed "magical" as Durn Bronzefist said. We were driving through Golden Gate park, and saw a number of people assembled in front of what I remember to be a science museum. We stopped to check it out and saw the large telescope in use. On that night Jupiter was in view.

Sadly, I missed my opportunity to ask if Jupiter was aligned with Mars...

The second time was outside Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Beignets and big sidewalk telescopes; only in New Orleans!
posted by Tube at 10:44 PM on April 10, 2008

I saw Saturn "live" for the first time a couple years ago in a (dobsonian!) scope I made myself. My first reaction: Holy crap, it really has rings!

So I called my wife out. "Saturn really has rings!" "Duh," she says, but comes out anyway and looks in the eyepiece. "Holy crap," she shouts, "Saturn really has rings!"
posted by DU at 4:19 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

For many people (most?) the idea that earth is this little planet floating in space is, at best, an abstract concept. They see pictures of the planets, but they remain just There's no connection to the reality of the thing.

The first time I stared into the night sky through a good telescope and saw Saturn's rings utterly blew those abstractions away. It's truly one of those moments that can reset your understanding of things.

Those damn rings are just too cool.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:52 AM on April 11, 2008

Yeah, most people walk around totally ignoring the fact that there are these incredible objects sitting out there, far away, with absolutely nothing to do with us. It's not just the rings of Saturn, but asteroids that have their own little moons, moons that may have oceans, other stars, nebulae... yet we're wondering what's gonna be on this week's CSI.

We're a world of dumbasses.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:32 AM on April 11, 2008

Tube! I've written before about the guy outside Cafe du Monde! Really mind-blowingly clear views.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:14 AM on April 11, 2008

I hope someone has a good scope somewhere in South Philly!

Also, Miko for Prez.
posted by Mister_A at 7:19 AM on April 11, 2008

I don't have a good telescope* by any means, but I'd be willing to share my telescope if any Boston-area mefites would like to take a look. E-mail's in profile.

* Seriously, I paid $40 for it. I haven't used it in years, so it needs dusting.
posted by Eideteker at 8:02 AM on April 11, 2008

I built a copyscope a couple of years ago, and to this day, I'm blown away how well a telescope made out of $30 worth of parts works.

Assuming the weather forecast is wrong and we don't actually get rain and snow all day tomorrow, I must check this out.
posted by quin at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2008

What a great coincidence (or maybe planned?)! Saturday is also Yuri's Night which honors the anniversary of the first human to reach space, Yuri Gagarin
posted by kuppajava at 9:48 AM on April 11, 2008

When I was a graduate student, we would have one night a week to show stuff in the telescope on the roof. When we showed Saturn, the response was invariably, "It looks just like a picture of Saturn!"
posted by dirigibleman at 2:00 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Everybody must get stoned.   |   Lights! Sounds! Fingers! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments