In my role as the RASC Ottawa Public Star Party Coordinator for 2017 and 2018, I sent out client feedback surveys to members and this year to the public too. For this year’s survey, looking at events held in 2018, I received 46 responses, a slight uptick from the 40 received last year. This year’s survey was sent to email distribution lists for RASC Ottawa members, OAFs, and OAOG, as well as posted on Facebook, Twitter, and the Ottawa Meetup pages where the events are advertised. These are the results.
Q1. Attendees to our public events often come from many groups. Which categories apply to you?
- Member of RASC Ottawa in 2018 [32 = 69.6%]
- Past member of RASC Ottawa, not current [2 = 4.3%]
- Member of Ottawa Astronomy Friends (OAFs) [8 = 17.4%]
- Member of Ottawa Valley Astronomy and Observers Group [1 = 2.2%]
- Member of Regroupement des Astronomes Amateurs de l’Outaouais Quebecois (RAAOQ) [0 = 0%]
- Astronomer with scope or binoculars, but not formally a member of anything [6 = 13%] ** 1 person also added Astro Photography as a sub-option **
- General public (i.e., no scope) [6 = 13%]
- None given [1 = 2.2%]
With 56 overall responses in there, obviously there was some overlap (most likely between the OAFs who have RASC affiliations). Given the limited public input, the survey should be viewed as mainly a survey of members only.
Q2. Did the locations work well for you in 2018?
- Carp was sufficient [32 = 82.1%]
- Wanted more events in East End [4 = 10.3%]
- Wanted more events in South End [5 = 12.8%]
- Wanted more events in Central [4 = 10.3%]
- Other responses included a desire for FLO or Mill of Kintail.
Obviously, Carp is a preferred location, even with some limitations, but people want to also keep the East End (CASM or elsewhere). While there is some interest in South and Central, lack of obvious locations and limited desire makes these less of a priority unless someone wants to arrange an ad hoc outing.
Q3. For 2019, where would you like to see a public star party?
- Carp Public Library / Diefenbunker [33 = 75%]
- CASM (on margins of monthly meetings) [13 = 29.5%]
- CASM (separate from monthly meetings) [9 = 20.5%]
- Other – East End (beyond CASM), if possible [4 = 9.1%]
- Other – South End, if possible [9 = 20.5%]
- Other – Central, if possible [7 = 15.9%]
- Fred Lossing Observatory (Almonte) [11 = 25%]
- Mill of Kintail (Almonte) 13 [29.5%]
- Astropontiac (Luskville) [6 = 13.6%]
- North Frontenac [9 = 20.5%]
- Other suggestions received included solar observing at Carp Fair or Kanata
While Carp and CASM are obvious, there are some nuances hidden in the other responses. For example, some people consider CASM not “far enough in the East End”, perhaps harkening back to the days when there were observing events in Cumberland. Equally, there is clear desire to go “darker” than Carp to FLO / Mill of Kintail / AstroPontiac / North Frontenac (aka Plevna). Two of those are conducive to public observing (Kintail and AstroPontiac), but the other two (North Frontenac and FLO) would present some challenges.
Q4. Anything else you want to share about locations?
- Would be great to try out an event in the south. Carp is a long drive for me and people living near me. It might open up the event to a new population reluctant to drive to Carp.
- Carp Library is OK but not as dark a sky as FLO or Mill of Kintail. The Mill of Kintail grounds near the Gate House is ideal, lots of space. The FLO is better suited to smaller parties due to its size and access.
- Near Barrhaven
Similar to the previous results.
Q5. In 2018, we had a portapotty in Carp for part of the year at a cost of about $500 for the season (cost donated by a member). Did you consider it:
- Necessary but insufficient because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible [1 = 2.4%]
- Necessary (to be professional in attracting the public) and sufficient [15 = 36.6%]
- A nice-to-have and worth the cost even if the Centre had to pay [11 = 26.8%]
- A nice-to-have but not worth $500 unless donated [8 = 19.5%]
- Not worth the trouble [3 = 7.3%]
- Other comments included a desire to see the City of Ottawa would donate it or noting that they didn’t even see it (it’s in the back corner of the parking lot)
At first glance, you can see that the views are a bit spread out. However, if you group them, it divides into two groups – two-thirds (65.8%) want at least the same next year, even if the Centre pays, vs. one-third who didn’t think it was worth the trouble, didn’t even know it was there, or would take it if donated, but not a priority.
Q6. What would be the biggest on-site problem(s) you saw at the Public Observing events in 2018 that you think should be addressed in 2019?
- Parking layout / setup for members with scopes [9 = 23.7%]
- Signage for parking [3 = 7.9%]
- Some sort of light barrier to block the headlights [16 = 42.1%]
- Some sort of light barrier to block the Diefenbunker light [17 = 44.7%]
- Better on-site management to control lines and layout, direct people, answer questions, etc. [7 = 18.4%]
- Additional comments suggested barrier to protect scopes (unclear how people would get to the scopes for public viewing?), multiple people thought it was good as is, and addition of no-smoking signs
The three biggest areas remain parking layouts (although noting that the number is somewhat higher given the multiple layouts attempted in 2018 leading to people being simply uncertain what the rules are), lighting, and on-site management.
Q7. Over the last couple of years, we have developed a better understanding of the roles that go into a Public Observing event. Which roles do you wish could be improved for 2019?
- Star Party Coordinator – More transparency / reporting to members about the start of the year arrangements (insurance, rentals, etc) [0 = 0%]
- Star Party Coordinator – Selection of dates in advance (required for insurance purposes) [2 = 6.7%]
- Star Party Coordinator — Announcements of monthly events, GO/NO calls (sorry, can’t do anything about the weather though!) [3 = 10%]
- On-site Marshals — Initial traffic setup, lights control, unlocking of portapotty, etc. [5 = 16.7%]
- On-site Outreach — Answering questions , directing people, herding cats (note that this role likely means asking people to do this without setting up a scope) [10 = 33.3%]
- Ad hoc Events — More “non-Carp, non-monthly special events” [13 = 43.3%]
- Other suggestions include more member-only events, improving the layout of dates on the website, and leaving everything “as is”.
This is a question that has been bothering me for most of the last year, and while I streamlined the survey overall to a smaller number of questions, this is one that I added as a special focus (although I apparently was so excited by it, I missed three or four glaring typos in the survey questionnaire that I only found when looking at the results! What kind of idiot doesn’t proofread the question he cares about the most, right? Sheesh.). Partly my interest was because as the coordinator and marshal, I am one of the ones doing these activities directly too, and I think the above validates my own concern that I’m not doing them all equally well. Amusingly, I’m glad to know that NO ONE wants to know about the behind-the-scenes administrative roles for arranging access and insurance! But I do think we need to consider changes to the onsite roles for marshals and outreach.
And I was surprised to see the strong desire for more ad hoc events, outside the normal monthly cycle. They are often really hard to arrange in terms of a location, timing vs. New Moon, and having people be ready to go depending on the weather when they are already committed to other events and other dates. The OAFs do a great job in my view for Kanata events at the Chapters, but those are more spontaneous by their nature. Yet despite all the work, some of the past ad hoc extra events have been poorly attended. Sometimes weather, sometimes just bad timing perhaps. People do tend to show more reliably for the monthly viewings announced well in advance.
Q8. Anything else you want to share about infrastructure?
- Star Parties require lots of preparation and personal time, so far, you’re doing a pretty good job
- we should encourage people who bring scopes to clean their area of garbage during takedown. Also it would be nice to get permission for observers to stay later. Many observers like to do astrophotography after the public has left.
- Keep the portapotty. I have no options when my kids need to go to the bathroom.
- We should have a formal handouts table at each public star party which could be staffed by a site marshal or someone else comfortable in doing outreach.
These are all good, and reinforce some of the above comments with colour commentary. FYI, I like the idea of having an option to stay later and I will raise it with the City of Ottawa, but I’m pretty sure the answer will be “no”. In part, simply because we need to have the insurance to be there, we need marshals to be onsite to keep the insurance and have access, and if people stay later, it would mean that (at a minimum) an identified marshal would have to stay too. While people who might have an interest in staying later could volunteer (hint, hint) to be a marshal, there are some legal concerns from the City that were raised earlier and I think will likely trump our desire to stay later. But, as I said, I can raise it and see what they say.
Q9. If we were to do theme nights for a Public Observing night, which ones are the MOST attractive to you?
- Spotlight on the Moon (Hey, there’s a lunar eclipse in January) [11 = 36.7%]
- Spotlight on the Sun (a daytime solar viewing event) [8 = 26.7%]
- Spotlight on a Planet (special highlight for a month) [15 = 50%]
- Messier marathon [11 = 36.7%]
- Newbie night – “I’m thinking about buying a scope” [11 = 36.7%]
- Kids night [7 = 23.3%]
- Introduction to Astrophotography – smartphones, DSLR, webcams? [14 = 46.7%]
- RASC observing certificates [6 = 20%]
- Another suggestion was “I have a scope but have no idea how to use it”
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate for the lunar eclipse night. In terms of the “spotlight on a planet”, I didn’t get a feel that anyone was noticing the theme nights this past year, but maybe others felt the people coming knew which planet was the highlight that month and I just didn’t notice. A Messier marathon was proposed for this coming weekend I believe, so I’ll look forward to hearing how many people attend (it’s still way too cold for me). I’m impressed with the interest in the AstroPhotography night as well as the newbie night and even the RASC Observing Certificates. I’ll pass some of that info along to other people in the Centre who may want to organize separate outings rather than at the Public Star Party events. Stay tuned!
Q10. Anything else you wish to share about our approach to Public Observing events?
- Anything done to improve the public’s understanding of the Night Sky and trying to protect what we have left is all good to me.
- Planet and moon observing are fun. But let’s not drag people out to Carp do do so. Any site with parking and horizons centrally located, say with bus service, would attract more people. The increased light pollution would make no difference to observing the moon or planets. I suggest getting permission to use part of a mall’s parking lot. Not sure what to do for “kid’s night”. But it behooves the RASC to inspire the young.
- Thank you for organizing this wonderful, inspiring program. We are VERY grateful.
- Super grateful for all of your efforts in making this club possible.
- One small suggestion would be having a way to identify the onsite marshal easily. Love the low key but enthusiastic helpfulness of the people who make these events happen. Would love to see more educational outreach for kids that might not otherwise get involved. But perhaps that is available and I just don’t know enough about it yet. Would also love to try out the scope near the Mill of Kintail sometime. Thanks to the organizers and volunteers with their valuable expertise. We keep coming back because of the delight our kids have looking at planets etc. The look on my 5 year olds face when she told me that she could see the rings of Saturn last summer was epic. I tell lots of people about how awesome your outreach is. Cheers
Thanks to one and all for the comments. And since I like the last comment so much, I’m going to close the summary with it:
Thanks to the organizers and volunteers with their valuable expertise. We keep coming back because of the delight our kids have looking at planets etc. The look on my 5-year-old’s face when she told me that she could see the rings of Saturn last summer was epic. I tell lots of people about how awesome your outreach is.
I will use the above information to inform my report to Council as well as my recommendations for the approach to Public Star Party events in 2019.