Gaze into the Heavens

My Astronomy Outreach Activities

In the fall of 2015, I launched a school outreach program for students interested in science and astronomy. I noticed many students were interested in my asteroid tracking and classification project, which is described in a separate post. However, many of the students I spoke with were unsure how to find out more about astronomy. Through this outreach program, I host programs for local middle school and elementary school students where I share my experiences as a young amateur astronomer, show astrophotos I have taken, explain my project involving the orbital calculation classification of asteroids, and described how cool and inspiring astronomy can be.

My first outreach event was on October 24, 2015. I hosted a group of middle school girls at our observatory and gave them a full tour. Our plan to observe the waxing crescent moon and select deep sky objects was clouded out, but thankfully, the planetarium show I was able to put on with our home planetarium projector and the gallery of astrophotos we’ve taken helped save the day.

Photos from my October 24 middle school outreach event.

On November 22, I hosted a stargazing tour at our observatory for a group from a local church. About a dozen people joined us, and the skies were clear, with a waxing gibbous moon. We used our 8 inch refractor to view the Moon, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula, globular cluster M15 in Pegasus, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Double Cluster in Perseus. I spoke to the group about each of these objects and the equipment we were using to view them, as well as the other equipment we use for astrophotography and spectroscopy. It’s always fun to host people for these events, especially those who are experiencing their first visit to a working observatory. We usually begin by rotating the dome and slewing the telescope to the first object, and I explain how the equatorial mount works to keep the telescope pointed at the object we’re observing while the Earth rotates beneath us. Then, the real fun starts when everyone lines up to look through the eyepieces in the binoviewer. It’s also nice to show visitors astrophotos I’ve taken so they can compare the views at the eyepiece with the more detailed and colorful details our cameras can capture. During the tour, I visited about the challenge of light pollution with one of our guests, whose work has made him very familiar with the outdoor lighting industry and the latest outdoor LED technology.

Photos from my November 22 outreach event.

Photos from my February 3 outreach event at a local elementary school.

Photos from my February 10 outreach event at a Nashville middle school.

Photo from my February 18 outreach event at a Franklin, Tennessee elementary school.

Photos from my March 8 outreach event at an elementary school in Nashville.

On April 24, I hosted my final outreach event of the 2015-2016 school year, which was a visit by sixth grade students from a Nashville middle school to our observatory. The students had built six homemade telescopes as part of their science curriculum this year, and they made a field trip out to our observatory to test them under dark skies. We had over 50 attendees at this event, making it the biggest outreach event we’ve hosted to date. I gave the students and their families a tour of our observatory and a short planetarium presentation.

Photos from my April 24 outreach event, taken just before sunset.

Thus far in 2016, I have presented to more than 275 elementary and middle school students and nearly 75 adults at 8 separate events where I’ve shared my love for astronomy as part of my ongoing astronomy outreach efforts. Additional details about those programs can be found on my blog page here.

I love sharing the wonders of astronomy, particularly with young students, and I look forward to continuing these efforts!