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Indoor Outreach


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This post discusses some astronomy activity without a telescope!

Public outreach in astronomy doesn't necessarily require a telescope. The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) Starry Messenger Special Interest Group (SMSIG) supports many events that provide astronomical and cosmological information and education for all ages, at outdoor and indoor events.

One of the privileges of living in the Tucson area is proximity to the astronomical and cosmological excellence at the University of Arizona (UA), and supporting many public outreach events by UA departments. Saturday, TAAA joined other community organizations in a public event on the UA campus: the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory’s (LPL) free, annual open house, Summer Science Saturday. This year's open house theme was the UA/LPL OSIRIS-REx mission, the first NASA mission to capture an asteroid sample and return it to Earth. The spacecraft will launch September 8 (weather permitting). See https://www.lpl.arizona.edu/sss  for the extensive listing of over a dozen participating community and university organizations and panel discussions.

We split the six hour pre-launch event into two 3-hour sessions with SMSIG leader Terri Lapin covering both shifts while Brian O'Connell and Karen Liptak joined Terri for the first three hours, and my wife Susan and I worked with Terri for the final three hours. Our setup consisted of several hands-on demonstrations. The major elements were the relative sizes of solar system objects, a large, clear plastic orientation of the celestial sphere and the internal global earth adjustable for time of day, a scale model of Earth, Moon and with a thick rope between them that a visitor could walk across the room with the Moon showing the true scale of separation (the length of our demonstration room). We also had two take away activities for younger visitors. The first was a word search that Susan builds for each SMSIG event we do, and a craft exercise that shows our place in the Universe. There are seven black and white figures in circles of increasing size (1" to 6", in increments of 1/16") to color and assemble. First is a small blank circle for the child to draw and color their house. Next is their city; Susan used a small figure of the San Javier del Bac mission. Next is the state; for us, an outline map of Arizona. Next was country, and outline of the United States, then planet Earth showing North and South America, followed by the Solar System with planets to color, ending with the Milky Way. When finished coloring, the figures are pasted on slightly larger, increasing circles of craft paper, and using a hole punch, the assembly is held together by a small brad on one side.

When Susan and I got there the crowd was quite large in our demonstration room we shared with several other organizations. The International Association of Astronomical Artists were demonstrating the creation of space art; Worldview had a really cool take away rocket demo where a six foot thin ribbon was placed inside a soda straw, and a small balloon would be blown up and taped to the straw. Let go of the balloon, and instant rocket. There was also a table where visitors could write out postcard sized messages for good luck to the OSIRIS-REx mission team, now at the launch point, for delivery to the team when they return after launch next week. Susan and I got there and relieved Brian and Karen, and had an interesting experience right at the start. One young boy was working on the Place in the Universe art, and his Home drawing did not look like a house. It turns out he and his family live on a research submarine!

Normally I'm not at my best with young children and indoors; give me a scope, a sky, and an audience any time. But this was actually a lot of fun, mostly due to some very sharp and artistic young people. Susan was great with her group of learners, and Terri, as always, was awesome with the education going on at her end of the table. And what I saw watching Brian and Karen before we joined in was also awe inspiring. In the end, we had over 200 visitors to our table; I heard Worldview say they'd done 700 balloon rockets!

Supporting these educational events are always rewarding. We all have so much to share of ourselves, and, as I always tell people, you never know what life you'll touch. And might just touch you! Pictures follow...

A String, A Straw, A Balloon, A Rocket.jpg

Brian, Susan, and Karen at the LPL TAAA Table.jpg

Build A Balloon Rocket2.jpg

Building Our Place In The Universe.jpg

Leaving Good Luck Messages For The OSIRIS-REx_Mission_Team.jpg

LPL Graduate Students.jpg

Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Hallway.jpg

Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Hallway2.jpg

OSIRIS-REx Mission Description.jpg

Planetary Science Institute Display.jpg

Susan and Karen at the TAAA LPL Outreach Table.jpg

World View Balloon Rocket On A String.jpg

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42 minutes ago, rockystar said:

sounds like a great day, and those Kids are always really smart and ask some reaching questions. Let's just hope they keep asking those questions when they grow up

I'd rather have their potential futures than my actual past!

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18 hours ago, andrew63 said:

It's certainly inspiring to have these facilities/opportunities at hand for the local community and good to see them being appreciated.


We are extremely fortunate not only to have the great organizations available to us (we have our monthly meetings in the on-campus Steward Observatory classroom auditorium). but the individual principal investigators, researchers, program managers, and even the graduate students of the departments of astronomy, optical sciences, planetary sciences, and others, will come to our club events and are fantastic public speakers sharing their cutting edge efforts.  In return, we, as an organization, support their outreach efforts.  I can't count the number of times over the last two decades that we've set up telescopes on the University Mall in public events associated with the scientific accomplishments of this great facility.

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