Space is a fascinating place, and most people never tire of looking at the stars. If you have never looked up and marveled at the stars, now is the time to start!
Astronomy programs at the library can come in many forms. You don’t have to be an astronomer, but it can help if you know someone who is. Local universities will likely have someone in the physics department who can present talks and programs, often for a wide range of ages. If you happen to be close to an observatory, chances are that it hosts a variety of outreach programs, probably at minimal or no charge. I happen to be especially lucky on this front… The Cincinnati Observatory, which is home to Dean Regas- outreach astronomer and co-host of the syndicated astronomy program Star Gazers since 2010- and a host of other wonderful staff and volunteers, is a mere 10 minutes from my library. Thomas More College is also nearby, and boasts its own observatory and Dr. Wes Ryle who frequently presents public astronomy programs at the college and who has presented programs for our library. A quick search for local amateur astronomy clubs and observatories will yield resources in your area.
In the Greater Cincinnati area, we also have access to a network of individuals who have been trained to use telescopes and present public programming. This three-year program, which was supported by a grant from NASA and sponsored by the Cincinnati Observatory, was called Future Galileos, and I was fortunate to be a part of the 2012 class. The program provided 15 hours of training; in astronomical basics, finding things in the sky, physical use of the telescope, and presenting public programs with the telescope. At graduation from the program, the telescopes, 8″ Dobsonian Reflectors, become the property of those of us involved in the training. Each person or organization then became one of the network of Galileos in the area trained for this purpose. There were Galileos from schools, scout groups, companies, individuals, and me, from a library. Public programming was a requirement to fulfilling the grant program, and all of us have presented at least a handful of events in the area. Larger public events sometimes join many of us, with our telescopes, into one area to share with the public our scopes and our help.
The telescopes are portable, big enough to find some pretty cool stuff in the sky and provide excellent views of the moon and (with filters) the sun, and simple enough for elementary age kids to enjoy. We were provided with two eye pieces of differing magnifications, the opportunity to build and learn to use several filters, a variety of resources, ideas for hands-on activities, and many hours of networking and learning. In my case, the telescope has proven to be a fun draw for moon- and sky-related programs, and I have shared the views with many people in the past 2 years. Since my library closes at 9 pm most nights, the spring and fall provide opportunities for viewing during regular programming hours. I have provided viewing programs about once per month as weather permits, in addition to taking the telescope to a number of outreach events- including some during daylight hours. An added bonus is that we may borrow filters (solar and other) from the Observatory for programming purposes, and have access to their expertise should the scopes need tuning or repair.
Even if you don’t have access to a fabulous program like this one, there are undoubtedly amateur astronomy clubs in your area. These are people who are very passionate about looking at the sky, and are usually very glad for any excuse to share that passion with others. Next time you are looking for a good space science program idea, don’t forget to look up… the views are fantastic!