On Saturday night Tom, the kids, and I attended a stargazing party at our provincial park to help celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. It was our town’s “Galileo Moment”. While we live in a rural area and don’t have a local astronomy club, observatory, or planetarium in where we live — though we do have the benefit of almost no light pollution — we do have some passionate amateur astronomers who put together two presentations (including the video “Eyes on the Skies”, more here on it) and set up eight telescopes, including a Celestron 14″ in diameter.
The kids ran from telescope to telescope, viewing the moon, Saturn and its ring, nebulae, and more. Just after 11 pm, we watched an iridium flare as the sun shone briefly on a travelling satellite. We’re planning on keeping our eyes open for more, since the bigger ones are visible to the naked eye.
As with all the best parties, ours had refreshments (hot chocolate, juice, and cookies to keep everyone warm on a cool Spring evening) and party favors, most courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: an assortment of AstroCards to collect (one from each telescope owner); Star Finders; the May/June issue of SkyNews, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing*, which has a constellation chart for late spring and a 2009 summer star party calendar; promotional postcards and brochures (one for 2-for-1 general admission to Edmonton’s science museum, and Cosmic Journey at the Strathcona Wilderness Center); “Become a Sidewalk Astronomer” booklet, also available to download; and also a copy of a new Canadian children’s astronomy book, aimed at those from grades 1-6, Mary Lou’s New Telescope by Don Kelly and illustrated by Michael McEwing, which can also be downloaded and printed.
If we had such a stellar happening in our little town, I can’t imagine all the offerings and special events available in larger cities to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope, wonderful ways to introduce, or further studies in, astronomy for your kids and your family. At the International Year of Astronomy website, click on your flag to your country’s IYA website and see what’s available in your country; this is Canada’s offering.
* For anyone not familiar with the magazine, the editor is astronomer and writer Terence Dickinson, author and co-author of a remarkable selection of astronomy books, including The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe, Exploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners, Exploring the Sky by Day: The Equinox Guide to Weather and the Atmosphere, and Summer Stargazing: A Practical Guide for Recreational Astronomers