Happy Astronomy Day, Part One! I say Part One, because Astronomy Day actually falls twice a year, once in the spring, and once in the fall. April 21 is the first Astronomy Day of 2018, but another will come around before you know it on October 13. Dreamed up as a way of “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” Astronomy Day gives local clubs and organizations the excuse to share their love of astronomy with their communities.
This awesome idea started back in 1973 when Doug Berger, the President of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, set up an event where they set up telescopes around their community where people naturally accumulated such as street corners, parks and shopping centers. Setting up these viewing areas to give people a taste of astronomy grew interest in their observatory open houses and fostered a love of astronomy in their community.
While events are hosted across the United States and even internationally, each participating organization plans their own event. Using the success of the 1973 Astronomical Association as a model, many events may center around setting up portable telescopes where anyone in the community will have the chance to look at the world from a different perspective. To see if an event has been planned in your area, please take a look at the Astronomical League’s website where they have a List of Spring Events and other information about Astronomy Day.
For those of you who may already harbor a love of Astronomy, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has some great hands-on Astronomy activities that you could try, such as Timothy Ferris’s Birthday Stars activity as seen on PBS’s Seeing in the Dark. According to Timothy Ferris, “Astronomers measure distances to the stars in terms of light years, units that combine time and distance. One light year is the distance light travels in one year; so if you look at a star ten light years from Earth, the light you see from it left ten years ago and is therefore ten years old.” Using the information provided in the author’s charts, you should be able to find a star whose light is your same age. Many of these stars can be seen with the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere. I think this activity is super cool as you can see starlight that has traveled all your life to reach you!
While many local clubs will give you the opportunity to use a telescope for free on Astronomy Day, you may discover a new year-round passion! If that happens to you, Best Buy sells telescopes such as the one included in this Thames & Kosmos Astronomy Kit for ages 12 and up. That telescope, as well as a wide variety of other options for different skill levels and budgets can be found at BestBuy.com.
In closing, as the great Stephen Hawking once said, “To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” I hope your sprit is enriched this Astronomy Day.