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Archive for Friday, May 9, 2008

Citywide star party planned

Events seek to bring astronomy to masses

May 9, 2008

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The Astronomy Associates of Lawrence is throwing a star party, and the city of Lawrence is invited.

In conjunction with national Astronomy Day on Saturday, the AAL will hold two events to bring stargazing to the masses.

From 1 to 4 p.m. at the Lawrence Public Library, the amateur astronomy group will offer presentations, displays and activities inside, and the opportunity for visitors to look through filtered telescopes at the earth's nearest star, the sun, outside.

Then Saturday night, specifically from 9 to 11 p.m. in the parking lot of the Prairie Park Nature Center, the AAL will allow people to peer through scopes at such sights as Mars, Saturn and the crescent moon.

"Weather permitting," said Rick Heschmeyer, the AAL's events coordinator. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."

Nothing ruins a good star party like an overcast sky.

Rain or shine, the events inside the library will go on.

While community-outreach events like Saturday's are central to the AAL - a fall event for scouts, for instance, drew more than 300 participants - the 30-some-member group hasn't held an event on national Astronomy Day for several years.

For that reason, Heschmeyer won't put a number on expected turnout.

"We'd like to have 100 to 200," he said. "But we haven't done anything specifically on Astronomy Day for a few years. We thought we'd try to do something this year in conjunction with the library. They were able to help with things like publicity, things we're not very good at.

"One of the main purposes for forming the astronomy club when it was formed 40-some years ago, was to do outreach with the general public with astronomy, and this is a by-product of that. It's a fun way for those of us in the club who enjoy astronomy to get to share with everybody else. Not everybody gets to look through telescopes. And events like this, at the public library where there are already lots of people : part of our theme is bringing astronomy to people, as opposed to the other way around. We have sort of a built-in audience."

National Astronomy Day started in 1973 in California as an astronomical PR event to bring the hobby to the masses. It since has spread to hundreds of sites throughout the country and even internationally.

And Saturday's local event, Heschmeyer reasons, comes at a good time.

Technological advances have made amateur astronomy easier than ever to become involved in, yet light pollution makes in increasingly difficult for astronomers to participate.

"I think more people are interested not just in astronomy, but space in general," Heschmeyer said. "In general, the hobby itself is more and more popular, but, yes, light pollution is becoming more and more of an issue. But because of the fact it's easier to get started in the hobby - because of go-to scopes and information on the Internet - a lot more people are interested. There are still a lot of people who are mildly interested, but they don't know where to start. That's where clubs like ours are good resources."

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