Part of what the ASBC was established for was to provide a resource of expert knowledge to the local educational community. That expertise takes the form of consulting as to astronomical phenomena, telescopic observation at schools (star parties), and other events. Please read the following dialogue to find how to best use us.
I am a teacher. How do I organize one of these "star parties."
First of all, contact one of the people listed on the front web page about a month or a month and a half before the time you will anticipate having the society over to your school. An early start is strongly suggested.
Can I have the society come to the school anytime?
If you contact us early enough, we may suggest another date for the party. This is not because we tend to organize our schedules in preference to yours, but because there are so few times that interesting astronomical targets can be found from the bright city environment.
What does this cost?
Nothing. We have organized star parties for the schools, Girl Scouts, and have even offered observing in Wal-Mart's parking lot.
When are good dates to organize my lesson plan toward?
The usual suggested date within a month is within a day or two either side of first quarter moon. The quarter moon is the best to look at (lots of craters and mountain shadows are visible) and it is high up in the sky at about sunset.
Are there any best times of the year?
Drier, cooler, months are preferred to humid, hot, months, because after sunset during the humid times, the water condenses out of the atmosphere and clouds form right after sunset, even if they are predicted to dissipate later. The months corresponding to Standard time also allow scheduling earlier times.
What if it rains or clouds up?
Either cancel our visit or organize a rain date. The best rain dates are within a couple of days, when the moon is approximately in the same place. For this reason, we like a planned Tuesday with a Thursday rain date.
When are the first-quarter moons for 2017-2018?
If the "day of week" (DOW) is between 3 and 5, the phase is favorable for one of those Tuesday-planned, Thursday-rain pairs. Otherwise schedule the day nearest the quarter.
All my students want to see planets. Are they always up?
No. See this table for times of convenient viewing during 2018. Note the times are listed for some entries as CST and others as CDT, whichever is convenient. Add an hour if daylight time applies during the part of the year for which a quoted time is standard. Also note that 2017 and 2018 are years for which the planets do not line up well with the school year, particularly that portion of the year when Standard time is in effect.
|Jupiter||up 15 degrees at 8:30 pm CDT 5/9/18 to 9/10/18|
|Saturn||up 15 degrees at 8:30 pm CDT 7/04/18 to 10/24/18|
|Venus||up 15 degrees at 7:30 pm CDT 4/6/18 to 9/6/18|
|Mars||July 31 closest, up 15 degrees at 8:30 pm CDT 8/7/18 to 6/3/19|
|Mercury||max. elongation at dusk: 15 Mar 18, 12 Jul 18, 6 Nov 18|
What about Uranus, Neptune, and dwarf planets like Pluto?
Uranus and Nepture are indeed visible (2018: Pisces and Aquarius in the autumn) but they are not impressive. The dwarf planets are like dim stars. Ceres is relatively bright (~ 8th magnitude) and visible some of every year, but otherwise starlike and uninteresting to all but the most committed observer. For more info about following the brighter asteroids, please look up their position in Stellarium.
Do you give lectures on the day of the star party?
Yes, we occasionally give lectures, but teaching school classes is not our strength. Most of us work in the daytime and organizing time off is difficult. We can suggest source materials, however.
What can I do to make your visit easier?
It can be most helpful if you do a few things:
1) Try to get as many lights shut off around your observing area as possible. The best way to choose an observing area is to go to your school at night and investigate the athletic fields and parking lots. Try to pick an area where the nearby lights can be shut off. Avoid the types of pole lights with automatic sensors, because they are not attached to a switch.
2) Try to give us a map before the event so that we can drive to the observing site and set up our heavy telescopes. You would scarcely believe how difficult it is to navigate around a school at night. Not because there isn't a lot of light, but because we are being asked to find the poorest-lit corner of an unfamiliar school. Please give or make us a sketched map showing the directions we will need to drive while on school grounds, as well as the nearby streets. Include landmarks, helpful distances, openings in the gates, and the approximate direction to a point on the compass.
3) Be sure to verify gates are open before the key-custodians leave. Otherwise, we come to an observing session at night only to find that a gate normally open all day is now shut.
Is there any non-obvious things I should tell my students?
Yes. If students or teachers bring a flashlight, they should put the lamp end of it in a small brown-paper bag and secure the bag with a rubber band (makes a dim light that doesn't destroy night vision). If they must use cell phone photo lamps, ask them to direct them down to illuminate their feet only. They can also prepare smartphones by searching on the name "red flashlight" and downloading one of many such apps. And be sure to warn them it gets surprisingly cold at night. Change into warmer clothes and bring a coat or jacket. (There is no app for this!)