I joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Ottawa Centre a little over 5 years ago. I had a telescope when I was a kid, one of the cheap handheld ones, and predictably, I saw almost nothing with it. Fast-forward 30 years, and I bought a Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope with some inheritance money. During those five years, I had no end of alignment challenges that I couldn’t quite figure out, so my enthusiasm for all things astronomical, including Ottawa Centre, waxed and waned like the moon — when things went well, it was great! When things didn’t go well, I felt like an idiot.
Finally, in 2015, I eliminated one huge problem with the help of a member at a monthly star party; in 2017, with the help of another member for a special one-hour “problem-solving” aka “see if Paul is just an idiot” session, we found a hard-to-diagnose problem with the controller setup; and Bob’s your uncle, we solved the intermittent alignment problems. I was good to go. And so, partly in gratitude for the help the Centre had given me and partly in a desire to be more involved, I became the “acting Star Party Coordinator for 2017”. I beat out a long list of “no, not me” candidates, and after wild acclamation (“Hey, didn’t Paul do it last year? Would he do it again?”), I became the Star Party Coordinator for 2018 too.
But I had some questions about what members wanted and if there were things we weren’t doing that we should be considering. So I did a survey of members and asked them a series of questions about our star parties, supports at the events, locations, themes, and of course, their preferred dates for 2018. We generally have held them monthly from May to October, but a few brave souls wanted to try April and November too, and the survey helped tease that out a bit. I posted my summaries at “Survey results for RASC Star Parties in Ottawa for 2018” (http://polywogg.ca/survey-results-for-rasc-star-parties-in-ottawa-for-2018/).
However, I wasn’t quite done yet.
A national survey of Centres was not quite so simple
I wanted to reach out to the other RASC Centres and see if there were any “lessons learned” (gee, can you tell I work in government?) from their efforts that would help me in my new role. So, I gave a heads-up to our Centre Council and then went through the RASC National website, pulling up the 28 centres listed, ignoring ours, getting a bit confused about the status of one of them, and reaching out by email or website links to the remaining 26 Centres. I was just planning to send a quick little email to the Star Party Coordinators at the other Centres, tell them I was the Ottawa coordinator, and ask them if they wanted to take part in the design and/or final little survey. I thought it would be good to have them help with finalizing the questions to improve the survey, but before I even got that far, the comparative learning started.
I only have experience with Ottawa Centre, and I just assumed everyone had what we had — monthly “Star Parties”. For Ottawa, that means a suburban site on the edge of town at a municipal library site that lets us turn off the parking lot lights for an evening of public viewing. Members come out with their scopes, some other informal astronomy group members come out too, and the public comes by to stargaze. It’s not a “dark-sky site”, but less light-polluted than downtown. On a good night, we might have 25-30 scopes, including a beast of a scope from one member, and up to 300 people through the course of the night. We also have a members-only observatory farther out-of-town, along with members-only viewing events there, plus occasional pop-up sidewalk astronomy events by the local astronomy members (often who are also RASC members) near Chapters bookstores with high foot traffic (also up to 300 people). In addition, there are special events like the eclipse (we overflowed the entire neighbourhood at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum!) and International Astronomy Day as full RASC events. And while we don’t have a “dark-sky” site under RASC, there are some darker observing sites that members individually organize small outings to from time to time, or impromptu Messier marathons in nearby settings.
But I thought the “Star Parties” i.e. the monthly public viewing events would be in every Centre, and it would be easy to figure out who the coordinator was so I could contact them. It was an early eye-opener looking at what the Centres actually offered.
Some of the Centres had “public observing” people, others did not. Some had “observing chairs”, but that tended to be the ones looking after the Certificate programs. Others had outreach people, but no observing events listed. Or at least not with names attached. Some had local observatories and did everything there, complete with public viewing through the big scopes; others were focused on sidewalk events, with high foot traffic, and had huge success with moon observing. For many, the term “Star Party” was much loftier — the annual “big” star parties with camping, multiple days, exhibits, demonstrations, often near dark-sky zones. Some of my emails were routed to different coordinators, depending on how they interpreted my description at the initial contact. In the end, about a dozen centres responded and wanted to participate. I sent them some draft questions, got some feedback to tweak a few questions, and we were ready to launch.
However, while I might have lofty goals about making it an annual survey or having a small informal network of public viewing coordinators to share info and success stories, it was also interesting to see some of the other interests that popped up. Some were wondering if we could add a bunch of questions about outreach events, membership drives, ongoing meeting management, etc. As I was trying to “stay in my lane” related to public viewing events, I had to decline to include those areas right now. Interesting, useful, and potentially illuminating, but beyond the scope of my little survey effort.
Question 1 — Which Centres?
Including my own answers for Ottawa, we had 13 Centres participating. These were:
- Atlantic: St. John’s (Newfoundland), New Brunswick;
- Central: Montreal, Ottawa, Niagara, Toronto, Hamilton, Sarnia, Windsor;
- Western/Northern: Winnipeg, Okanagan, Victoria, Sunshine Coast.
I used Survey Monkey for the survey, and broke it into two surveys (the limit on free surveys is only ten questions and I had seventeen in total). Most Centres used the website link to respond. Two printed out the surveys and discussed them as a group within their Centre, and then sent me detailed responses. And two other Centres (not listed) sent me some general info about their offerings, which while interesting and helpful to me, didn’t really fit within the survey questions and so don’t show up in the formal survey results below.
Question 2 — What does the Centre offer?
This was my initial scoping question (no pun intended) to try to get us all using the same terminology for the survey. I created 8 sub options, although some overlapped, and the results were as follows:
- Occasional or regular public outreach events (with no viewing, just presentations or lectures): 76.92%;
- Occasional public viewing events (such as for an eclipse or conjunction event): 84.62%;
- Regularly scheduled public viewing parties (more than four times a year): 61.54%;
- Ongoing public viewing events (such as at an observatory that is open regularly, maybe even weekly): 30.77%;
- Occasional or regular members-only meetings (with no viewing, just presentations and lectures, Centre management, etc.): 38.46%;
- Occasional members-only observing events: 46.15%;
- Regularly scheduled members-only observing events (more than four times a year): 53.85%;
- Ongoing members-only observing events (such as an observatory or dark-sky site for members-only use): 53.85%.
For me, the meat was in (c), (d), and (g/h). Sixty percent of Centres are offering regular public viewing parties, the equivalent of what I coordinate for Ottawa Centre. Of those, 30% or so have them as ongoing events at an observatory for example. When we limit it to members-only observing, just over 50% of the Centres are doing regular events.
This was one of the questions that the various Centres helped with tweaking when I was designing the survey, in part because some of them noted that when there was success with events, it was almost always correlated with cross-promotion between the events. So that members going to members-only events also saw the public events, and that there was a schedule so they didn’t conflict or overlap. It was also interesting to see in (a) and (e) the level of support offered for events that are non-observing occasions. That is a bit beyond my purview, but still interesting. In the open comment box after the question, some noted that their monthly meetings are open to the public, so there isn’t a difference in the two for them. I also found it interesting that one had some had public talks or their monthly meeting immediately followed by observing at the same site, which was not something I had seen listed in many RASC groups, although it did show up in my internet research in more informal astronomy groups.
Question 3 — How often do Centres offer public observing?
My obvious bias in the choice of questions is plain in the ordering of the questions — the public observing events is the area of most interest to me, and the reason I did the survey, so I asked the previous question and this one right upfront. I was quite surprised to see the full range of responses:
- Less than 3 times a year or not a set schedule: 23.08%;
- Regularly (4 or more times a year AND a set schedule): 23.08%;
- Monthly for part of the year (set schedule announced in advance, even if not the whole year): 38.46%
- Monthly all year (weather permitting of course): 23.08%;
In Ottawa, we don’t do public observing events in the winter months (December to March) but there are some members-only events at the observatory with its warming room. I was a little surprised that the Centres are pretty much evenly distributed across the spectrum (less than 3, 4+, 6-8, or 12), I expected more clumping of results.
Question 4 — Where do you offer public observing?
In Ottawa, our RASC-affiliated public observing is generally limited to the monthly star party or a special event (like an eclipse) and only in a couple of very specific i.e. pre-set locations. I was curious to see what other Centres used as their locations:
- Sidewalk astronomy — pop up events that happen in different locations around the urban setting: 46.15%;
- Urban astronomy — urban viewing always in one location in the city: 15.38%;
- Suburban astronomy in various locations: 7.69%;
- Suburban astronomy in a set location (park, field, parking lot, etc.): 69.23%;
- At an observatory location but without the use of the scope (i.e. co-location): 0.00%;
- Viewing at a permanent observatory (including offering views through the permanent scope): 46.15%;
- Dark-sky site — viewing at a dark-sky location: 61.54%.
Note that this is ONLY about public observing, not members-only too. The results were fascinating. While there are some sidewalk astronomy events in Ottawa, as noted above, they are organized by non-RASC groups around Ottawa (although many of the members are also RASC members). However, almost 50% of the Centres are doing these events (and a number noted the level of success with them, particularly for moon observing). However, 70% have options similar to Ottawa — a suburban location in a set location (for us, a library parking lot). However, I was filled with some jealousy to see public viewing options (almost 50%) at a permanent observatory and 60% at a dark-sky location. We just don’t have the local areas to either support full public events or close enough to make them feasible.
Question 5 — Drilling down on Sidewalk Astronomy
For the next question, I wanted to drill down a bit on the details around those Centres that had sidewalk astronomy events. I didn’t want a series of separate questions, so I cheated a bit and grouped a few in one question with a “select all that apply” option. In the first set of five options, I wanted to see whether the sidewalk stuff moved around or was always in one location:
- There are no sidewalk events: 38.46%;
- RASC isn’t involved but other groups do some sidewalk events: 0% (* collapsed with the next option)
- RASC members attend, but informal groups organize sidewalk events: 23.08%;
- RASC partners with other organizations for some sidewalk events: 46.15%;
- There are RASC-led sidewalk events: 23.08%.
This one surprised me. I kind of expected that the informal nature of the “pop-up” events would mean it was done by more informal groups than a RASC centre. Since almost a quarter are doing them as formal RASC events or half in conjunction with other organizations, we’re considering at least a bit more support for the notifications than in the past. I’ve added them as dates TBA in our formal list of RASC events for the year, and even suggested a couple of months where they might be in specific sections of the City. Equally, we’re considering a blitz night where we might do four or five locations in one night, but the details will need to be worked out to see if it is feasible or not. In Ottawa, there are non-RASC groups that hold some on the East and West ends of the city, but there was interest in having some events more Central or South too.
The stats are a bit wonky for the next few areas because the people above who had no sidewalk events (40%) wouldn’t need to answer these, but because of the way I grouped them, they would show up as part of the percentage anyway (i.e. it isn’t a subset, it is as a percentage of all Centres responding, whether they have events or not). I wanted to know how much notice is given — are they announced in advance, very formal planning, or more spontaneous such as “Hey, tomorrow night looks good, let’s go for it!”.
- Sidewalk events are informal and happen spontaneously (one day’s notice, for instance): 23.08% (or 37.5% of those who have sidewalk events);
- Sidewalk events are formal, scheduled, and announced in advance: 38.46% (or 62.5% of those who have events).
Again, I was surprised. Most of the reading I did online about organizing sidewalk events were more about short-notice spontaneous events. Instead, almost two-thirds of the RASC sidewalk events are pre-scheduled. However, at the moment, since RASC Ottawa doesn’t organize them, it would be hard to “force” a schedule upon the Ottawa organizers if they prefer more spontaneous events.
- Sidewalk events happen several times a month: 7.69% (12.5% of those having events);
- Sidewalk events happen once a month: 15.38% (25% of those having events);
- Sidewalk events happen sporadically: 38.46% (62.5 of those having events);
It is hard to reconcile this result with the previous one — normally if they are pre-announced, they would have a more formal schedule, but they were both spontaneous AND organized, apparently.
Finally, I wanted to check if they moved around or were in the same location:
- Sidewalk events happen in the same place every time: 15.38% (or about 28% of those having events);
Sidewalk events move around: 38.46% (or about 72% of those having events).
Again, I was surprised. Many of the informal sidewalk events that I read about on the internet sites started off moving around, but eventually found a single location that worked well. However, the RASC Centres are apparently still moving theirs around.
Expanding the focus on public observing (other than sidewalk events)
Since I am mostly interested in the public observing events that resemble the Ottawa parties, I wanted to ask a series of questions about “what else is out there” that other Centres were doing or had in their toolkits that Ottawa did not have available. Generally, I grouped the questions around infrastructure, supports, themes, and rooms adjacent to the group (an area added by one of the other Centres).
Question 6 – Public Observing Infrastructure
Our setup in Ottawa is pretty low-key. We have a parking lot to use in a suburb with a great Western view, and a stream-lined event process — we announce, we set up, people show up, we observe, we pack up, we go home. There’s a little bit of signage, and good parking, nothing else. So I wanted to know what others offered:
- Washrooms in a building: 50.00%;
- Portable washrooms already on site: 16.67%
- Portable washrooms provided by the Centre: 25.00%
In other words, roughly 80%+ have washrooms. Definitely something for us to look into in Ottawa.
- Dedicated parking lot: 75.00%;
- Parking controls around how “close” members can park to the viewing area for unloading/loading and at what times: 50.00%;
- Light barrier to block headlights from spilling into the viewing area: 8.33%;
One of the biggest irritants we have at the monthly Ottawa events is that we are using the edge of the parking lot, so all the cars that park in the adjoining rows often shine their headlights directly towards us as they are arriving or leaving. We ask them to park facing away, but there are still backup lights, parking lights, interior lights, etc., and all in cars being driven by relative newbies who don’t know that some of the members who are more passionate about light pollution are ready to rumble if a member’s battery power pack even has an unshielded red light on it. (Down with the pitchforks, I’m only gently mocking!). I was surprised that only one Centre has an actual light barrier to block such light. We don’t have a solution yet, but it’s on the list to explore this year. A simple rope could be strung from lamp-post to lamp-post and with tarps hanging off it, but they would likely flap in the wind or need to be tied down, which might create a safety hazard. If people have ideas, I’d welcome hearing of them.
- Time limits on the event (we can only go until 12:30 at our site): 33.33%;
- Kiosk or table for information or membership: 25.00%;
- Formal signage: 66.67%;
- ID badges for all members: 25.00%;
- Strict rules around use of white light (phones), light pens (even for guests), or not smoking: 41.67%;
- Event marshals who help with any initial setup (in Ottawa, our “marshals” turn off the parking lot lights as well as the building lights in the library, put up signage): 33.33%.
I was a bit surprised that there are not more Centres using “formal helpers / marshals” at the events, as it is one of the biggest helps to me in coordinating. If there is a marshal at the event who can handle basic on-site issues, it means I don’t necessarily have to attend every event or stay for an entire night if I have other commitments. I am extremely grateful for that support, and it is an important factor in my willingness to take on the coordinator role.
The open comments area was interesting too. I had tried to get people to estimate attendance (scopes and guests), but the methodology was inconsistent. However, two Centres had an interesting approach. In one case, they are limited to an overall cap by their hosting partner; in another, the demand was overwhelming the volunteers and they’ve had to limit attendance to guests who pre-book their spot each month. While we don’t have to do that for our monthly meeting, I’m a little nervous about sending too many people to a smaller sidewalk event without adequate scope support on-site.
Question 7 – Public Observing Supports
Since some guests need more support than others, I was curious what Centres offered:
- Physically accessible site (hard surface for wheelchairs to get close to the scope, adjusted heights for different abilities): 88.89%;
- Existing bus transit near the location: 22.22%;
- Chartered bus to the location: 22.22%;
- Informal or formal carpooling, offers of rides: 11.11%;
- Dedicated “kids” zone where the scopes are set up lower: 11.11%;
- Dedicated newbie zone to help people set up: 11.11%.
In the comments, some also noted “projections to tablets” and various heights for the different scopes, or helping newbies setup (although this probably wasn’t the right place to include the question). Impressively, one of the Centres noted Articulating Relay Eyepieces for wheelchair guests, a wheelchair accessible port-a-potty, and handicap parking. Definitely a level to aspire to, and something we can delve into in more detail if I do the survey again next year.
Question 8 – Public Observing Themes
In some of my research prior to the survey, I noticed some of the hosts had found great success with various theme nights. As such, I wondered if any of the other Centres were doing them too (for our monthly meetings, my announcement tends to be of the form “Hey, look up, stars!” rather than a more communications-friendly theme, although our publicity coordinator has more skill in this regard for the outreach and promotion). For the other Centres, they have offered:
- Spotlight on the Moon: 41.67%;
- Spotlight on a planet: 25.00%;
- Solar viewing: 50.00%;
- Conjunction night: 0.00%;
- Messier marathon: 25.00%;
- Partnering with other non-RASC astronomy groups: 41.67%;
- Special “partners-only” night for official partners for the Centre: 0.00%;
- Partnering with a company or organization for a “special night” (Boy or Girl Scouts, a business, etc.): 50.00%;
- Rotating topics between “learning” (general) or special “observing” targets: 8.33%;
- Special outings to other regions, cities, much darker sites: 33.33%;
- Newbie nights (help them see different types of scopes): 16.67%;
- Demo nights for technology or Introduction to Astrophotography: 25.00%;
- Passport “stickers” for kids (i.e. give them a small target list to see something with different scopes or find different targets): 0.00%;
- Nothing — the stars are enough, dude!: 16.67%
It was not surprising that the top 3 were solar viewing, partnering with a specific organization (like Scouts), and spotlight on the moon. I was surprised however that there wasn’t more focus on specific planets or conjunctions. I’ve tried to specify a theme for each of the monthly events this year, a little “extra” promotion to hook people so they know if they’ve been before that tonight they’ll see JUPITER or SATURN or something they haven’t seen before. In my survey of Ottawa members, there was interest in newbie nights, astrophotography nights, and demo nights too. However, as with the survey of Centres, there is still a healthy contingent to remind me — don’t over-complicate things, the stars are enough.
In the open comments, the feedback was interesting, albeit anecdotal. For example, the moon focus is often the biggest event. Another also does Explore the Universe certificate promotion. Another does the A/V presentation followed by actual star-gazing to see what they’ve just seen a presentation about (although that worries me, as I’ve also seen notes online from others that this can backfire — the public sees this amazing long-exposure shot by the Hubble Telescope, and then they look through our earth-bound amateur scopes with little colour and they’re disappointed).
Question 9 – Public Observing Rooms
One of the Centres was interested in knowing about those who have indoor spaces adjacent to their viewing site, if the room was free or not and basically who was providing it. I grouped them in a single question, with the following outcomes, noting that about 60% had some sort of adjacent space:
- Free: 71.43%;
- At minimal cost: 0;
- At commercial rental rate: 0.00%
- By library: 14.29%;
- By museum: 0.00%;
- By neighbourhood association: 0.00%;
- By municipality: 14.29%;
- By science-related organization: 28.57%;
- By observatory: 42.86%;
- By NGO: 14.29%
The bias in the results though revolve around those who use the observatory or a science-based site and those who don’t. In addition, some were answering based on whether it was solar viewing during the day when the buildings were open or at night when closed. I’m not sure it is going to help the Centre who contributed the question, so we may have to tweak it for next year.
Question 10 – Members-only Observing Frequency
I took a similar approach to the members-only event questions as I had for the public observing section above. I started off with frequency:
- Occasionally (three times a year or less OR not a set schedule in advance): 25.00%;
- Regularly (4 or more times a year AND a set schedule): 25.00%;
- Monthly for part of the year (set schedule announced in advance, even if not the whole year: 16.67%;
- Monthly all year (weather permitting of course): 33.33%;
- Annual big event: 25.00%
Again, as with an earlier question, I was expecting more clumping around a given frequency. Instead, it is spread pretty evenly. I’m also surprised by the annual big event being “members-only”. I’d only ever thought of the big festivals as open to the public (which a number of people noted in other comments is just not feasible at their dark-sky sites). I also asked for estimates of size of groups involved, but the methodology was inconsistent, ranging from 1 to 30 people.
Question 11 — Members-Only Observing Locations
- Suburban location in a specific set location (park, field, parking lot, etc.): 7.69%;
- Viewing on the property of a permanent observatory site (but without use of the permanent telescope, just co-location): 7.69%;
- Viewing at a permanent observatory (including using the permanent scope): 69.23%;
- Dark-sky site — viewing at a dark-sky location: 46.15%
Not surprisingly, the demands of members exceed that of the public, so the vast majority offer either better facilities at an observatory or a dark-sky site.
Question 12 — Members-Only Observing Infrastructure
As with the earlier question on public observing, I wanted to see what Centres offered members:
- Washrooms in a building: 58.33%;
- Portable washrooms already on site: 16.67%;
- Portable washrooms provided by the Centre: 25.00%;
- Dedicated parking lot: 50.00%;
- Warming room: 75.00%;
- Time limits on the event: 0.00%;
- Strict rules around use of white light (phones) or light pens: 50.00%;
- Training on how to use the permanent scope (if applicable): 75.00%
I thought there might be more variety in the answers provided when I first drafted the survey, however the use of an observatory for both members-only viewing as well as public observing tended to make the results fairly similar.
Question 13 – Members-only Observing Supports
- Physically accessible site (hard surface for wheelchairs to get close to the scope, help with setting up scopes): 71.43%;
- Already close to an existing bus route: 0.00%;
- Transit to the location 2 – chartered bus to the location: 14.29%
- Transit to the location 3 – informal or formal carpooling, offers of rides: 14.29%
The details didn’t change significantly from the public option, mainly as the locations are often the same.
Question 14 – Members-only Observing Themes
This was one of the questions where I was really curious to see what was different from the theme nights for the public. The offerings are pretty dispersed across the list of topics:
- Special target nights (Moon, planet, conjunctions): 33.33%;
- Solar viewing: 33.33%;
- Messier marathon: 41.67%;
- Certificate sessions (following the observing outlines from the RASC certificates): 41.67%;
- Partnering with other Centres: 8.33%;
- Partnering with other astronomy groups: 0.00%;
- Special outings to other regions, cities, much darker sites: 25.00%;
- Demo nights for technology or Introduction to Astrophotography: 25.00%;
- Nothing — the members are self-sufficient: 25.00%
What surprised me was that there seemed to be MORE theme nights for members than for the public. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but since I’m relatively new to the world of successful stargazing, I’ve often felt members were generally more self-sufficient than I and wouldn’t necessarily need or be interested in theme outings.
Question 15 – What types of coordinators does each Centre use?
Going back to the beginning, I mentioned that there were many different configurations between members-only or public or certificate observing and how each Centre organized themselves. This question tried to unravel that a bit, again around five sub-groupings of questions:
- We leave sidewalk astronomy to individuals to organize on their own: 30.77%;
- We have a separate coordinator for sidewalk astronomy: 0.00%;
- We combine sidewalk astronomy with other viewing coordination: 23.08%
- We have a separate coordinator for public viewing events: 38.46%;
- We have a separate coordinator for public outreach events: 46.15%;
- We have a coordinator for public outreach events that includes public viewing: 46.15%
- We have a separate coordinator for members-only observing: 61.54%;
- We have a coordinator for observing that includes both public and members-only events: 30.77%;
- We have a separate coordinator for annual events: 23.08%;
- We have individual coordinators for special events (i.e. any willing victim): 61.54%;
- The coordinators handle all parts of the event — planning, schedule, on-site management, and publicity: 53.85%;
- The coordinators handle planning and schedule, but marshals handle on-site management: 23.08%;
- The coordinators handle planning and schedule, but a media coordinator handles publicity: 38.46%;
- We use a coalition-of-victims for each event, so the roles vary by event: 23.08%.
In the end, I don’t think I asked the right formulation of the question for the sub-headings. In theory, they should add up to 100% but because they’re grouped under one big question, some people just skipped some options as it didn’t apply to them. There’s a lot more to unpack in there, although it is as much about Centre management as it about observing. In one of the open prose comments, I was intrigued that a Centre has their observatory sessions hosted by pairs of trained members (of which there are 16) with scheduling done by quarter.
Question 16 – Last year’s success?
If I strip away all the mechanical information above, in some ways it comes down to a simple question — what was the most successful thing your Centre did last year? I made the question just an open text box, and the list was fascinating. Raw entries included (only slightly edited to hide individual Centre identification):
- Observe the Moon Night; Mercury transit
- The RASC National Day to celebrate Canada’s 150th
- AV Presentation followed by Stargazing, offered free of charge, not uncommon to have over 100 attendees on nights when the skies are clouded over and snowing or raining. We invite all service groups to attend as well as any scouting troops. We are also partners with a local Provincial Park, this is a camping weekend for our members. Most successful event was the Solar Eclipse Party open to the public.
- Astronomy Day at a Chapters. Showed a couple hundred people the Sun through a couple of solar scopes and handed out plenty of planispheres, moon maps, pamphlets, etc.
- We partnered with the local university for two great events. At a park by the River front for the Solar eclipse. A large multi discipline university ‘science program’ open house where we had a large indoor display and 4 scopes fitted for solar viewing.
- Eclipse at science centre
- Total solar eclipse event, both local and a road trip to Oregon
- Partial Solar Eclipse
- The eclipse. It attracted many more than we expected. We ran 3 sites for that. Most of the people who would normally help were at totality so it was a small crew.
- We provided RASC solar viewing shades to the county libraries, and let public know they could go to a library to safely watch eclipse. (Our members traveled to totality, so none were here to run an event themselves.
- Had a member-only event at an extremely dark sky
- Toss up between changing our regular Friday Public observing to Sat for the Perseids and providing solar scopes etc for the eclipse
It was no surprise the eclipse figured prominently in most answers. However, I was also intrigued by those who DIDN’T mention the eclipse, showing that not all Centres focus on the same thing, given the eclipse zone location and yet still had very different successes.
Question 17 – Plans for this year
I book-ended the last question of looking backward to ask them what they wanted to “add” or do differently this year. Here are the raw results:
- Add members-only viewing and move location for public
- Finalize location for centre observatory; dark-sky preserve; bathroom and warming option
- I wish we could get more club-member volunteers to step up and help.
- Have a successful “Star Party” at our observing site.
- More sidewalk astronomy.
- It would be helpful if we had more members/volunteers who would set up their scopes each month and we could increase the pre-booked public numbers. I would like to know more about ‘pop-up sidewalk astronomy’.There was no place to add this but each year we partner with a dark-sky area for the Perseid Meteor Shower. They keep the park open past midnight. There were 2,000 people in attendance last year.
- anticipating access to an observatory again this summer!
- build telescope pads and a fence to block headlights
- Anniversary Banquet
- Lots of clear skies for our summer star parties!
- Have a successful international astronomy day, in years past we have had to cancel due to poor weather.
- Attend more events
- Find an urban site with free rooms to restart our Sidewalk Astronomy and offer sessions such as NOVA, NOVA Jr and Telescope Workshop
After the survey was done, a friend asked me, “Did you get what you want from the survey?” and I could honestly say the answer was both “Yes! And more!” and “I don’t know yet”. There is a LOT of data in the survey, and while I don’t want to take percentage changes as too definitive given the small sample size, it is at least somewhat indicative of who is doing what as well as where and how. I may find myself returning to it throughout the year.
Between the two surveys — the one of Ottawa member and the one of RASC Centres — I see a lot of great creative ways to improve some of what we do in Ottawa. I also see things that, while creative and interesting, are more likely lower priorities to focus on for my role.
For this year’s observing plans and coordination duties so far, I’ve tried to do a few things differently:
- Survey the members about their desires for the monthly events;
- Survey the other Centres to glean new ideas;
- Expand from May to October to add April (International Astronomy Day) and November;
- Expand the cross-promotion with sidewalk astronomy and informal groups so that it is more formally promoted and members are encouraged to join too, not just leaving it to a smaller handful of willing members;
- Plan (but perhaps not organize directly) some members-only visits to additional sites that have some darker-sky opportunities that some members would like to try out formally as a RASC-led / -approved / -sanctioned event; and,
- Add some themes to my announcements.
The upside is more events; the downside is more GO / NO-GO calls to be made and distributed, hoping that the result matches the weather forecast that day or from the day before.
And I need to start exploring options for washrooms on-site and a potential light barrier solution at the monthly event.
Thank you to all the Centres who participated. For those who didn’t get a chance this year, hopefully I’ll be able to expand a bit next year and improve the questions as well as the targeting.