Saturday, May 10, 2014

Today Is World Astronomy Day - A Day To Celebrate

Saturday, May 10th this year is 'World Astronomy Day' - designated as providing an opportunity for astronomy enthusiasts around the world to mix and mingle with the general public and also provide opportunities for education. Generally, the date is scheduled within a day or so of the first quarter Moon, which means minimal light pollution from that source - so many other celestial objects (including planets, such as Mars) can be observed in any available telescopes.

A particular cause for celebration this year is the news that the Harry Bayley Observatory is up and running again, and will be open to the public that day - including showing off a new 80mm dedicated solar telescope, a high resolution CCD and a 16 inch Celestron for general viewing.   The Observatory has been the fortunate beneficiary of new funding  that has also allowed a fully motorized dome to be imported from Australia as well as and will now aspire to be what it always has had the potential to be: the best astronomical Observatory in the Caribbean.

The Observatory, according to President Ricky Small, will be open in the afternoon with the public welcome for interaction and social gathering with Astronomical Society members, after which the Dome will be open to observing - if the weather cooperates. Members plan to show off the Sun through the new solar telescope and also - later in the evening - the planet Mars, nebulae and other sights.

This is especially encouraging given the Observatory had been closed the past three years owing to a senseless act of vandalism, see e.g.

But now, the Observatory is wholly refurbished:

Both Janice and myself,  who spent many years giving courses at the Observatory, are hoping that the World Astronomy Day in Barbados is a huge success.

Across the world, other meet and greets will be planned and we hope that education forms a substantial part of them all, in addition to socializing.

Sadly, astronomy remains a stepchild discipline despite efforts to more widely publicize it - as in the new TV series, 'COSMOS'.  There are useful media to present the subject, such as ASTRONOMY magazine, but the indications are its circulation primarily dominates among the existing enthusiasts of the subject and amateur astronomers. 

Astronomy texts and books, meanwhile, remain so-so sellers, as most people gravitate to easy fiction not learning about the Right ascension or declination of stars and the occultations of stars by planets.

Today , then, is an occasion to pump up public interest again and the best way to do this - based on my own experience - is through the use of short, to the point lectures on interesting topics, followed by a question and answer period, and then extended observing through the available telescopes. All in all it should be an occasion for much enrichment and extending the public's acquaintance with the oldest science beyond the 'Ooh and ah' phase.

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