Thursday provided two tracks. Many attendees heard a series of papers starting with Jim Sack of Bishop, CA, on the construction of a mobile observatory. This unique observatory was based on a recreational vehicle whose dining area had its roof removed and replace with a dome that houses a 8-inch Meade SCT.
David Chandler, author of the "Deep Sky" computer program, has managed to observe the debris trail left by comets. He first wrote a program to plot the trail in the sky, and then actually go observe it. This is something that very few people ever do.
Ed Flasphoehler, editor of the Reflector, explained why the Astronomical League needs a newsletter. Finally, Charles Allen gave a very interesting talk on "Gravity and Space-Time".
Meanwhile, about fifty attendees participated in the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Project Astro workshop. Project Astro is a National Science Foundation-funded program to bring amateur astronomers and teachers together to enhance the teaching of astronomy. Both groups, astronomers and teachers, have their own set of preconceived ideas about the other group and the process of teaching.
The session started with a videotape that showed even the youngest and most intelligent students bring preconceived ideas on astronomical phenomena to the classroom. Even after the phenomena is explained, a student will take their personal theory of a phenomena and try to adapt the classroom explanation to fit with their personal theory. The best way to counter this is to provide hands-on activities with three-dimensional models to the students. Under the teacher's guidance, they can learn at their own pace and convince themselves of the real reasons behind astronomical phenomena.
The amateur astronomer brings an enthusiasm for the subject that the teachers, who have to be knowledgeable in many fields, normally do not possess. Children have a natural curiosity about the universe around them, and the astronomer can bring the excitement of astronomy with occasional visits to the same classroom.
Although Project Astro is being run from ASP headquarters in San Francisco (which they affectionately refer to as Galactic High Command), there are a number of Project Astro centers all over the country. These centers sponsor two-day Project Astro workshops. Before the workshops are scheduled, astronomers are paired with teachers from the same area. The astronomer-teacher team attend the workshop together. There they create a plan for working together in the teacher's classroom. The Project Astro staff also help the teacher and astronomer separately address their concerns about working with each other.
When the astronomer and teacher leave the workshop, they have gotten to know and respect each other. They have a plan for classroom activities and are ready to begin working together to bring the excitement of astronomy to the students. While the mini-workshop at ALCon only lasted four hours without the teacher-parent pairing, it brought much understanding and excitement about the process of teaching astronomy to the participants.
Afternoon brought talks on imaging spectroscopy and how this planetary mapping technique will be used on current and planned spacecraft. Then the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) held a workshop on light pollution and how to control it. Dr. David Crawford (pictured at right), Dr. Tim Hunter, and Mr. Robert Gent, all of IDA, made the point that light pollution can be controlled. A growing number of governmental units, city, county, and state, are considering how to control light pollution, and amateur astronomers can help.
IDA will can assist with advice, sample ordinances, and other materials. What will actually make light pollution a thing of the past is hard work by concerned people who will go to their legislatures, city councils, and county boards, asking that something be done about light pollution. It is not an impossible situation. As amateur astronomers, we have to travel many miles to get dark skies. The general public will not travel to the dark skies, so they no longer are exposed to the beauty of a milky-way laden sky. Our culture has lost the heritage of dark skies.
Dark skies can be returned to our urban centers. The bad, energy wasteful lighting what brightens our skies can be eliminated by the efforts of amateur astronomers and others who want to see dark skies and save money with good lighting. If you believe that our culture needs darker skies, then the least you can do is to join the IDA. Visit the IDA website at www.darksky.org.
The evening brought on another evening of observing. Before twilight ended, Dr. Roger Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey spoke at the observing site on "Visual Astronomy of ‘The National Parks of the Universe'".
The Group Photo.