When @VirtualAstro asked me if I could share with you some impressions or tips and tricks about Meteor Shower observations, I did my homework and had a look at the previous blog entries. So I discovered that Astroguyz offered a concise, yet comprehensive overview of the most important tips to keep in mind when looking for meteors, complemented by Mark Zaugg’s post, while Deirdre Kellaghan shared with you the beauty of seeing such celestial show. So there I was in trouble, with both the technical and emotional parts already fully covered.
It is at this point when I decided to look at Meteor Showers from the most familiar point of view to me – outreach, the very core of #MeteorWatch, but taking into account a rather often situation: lay people whose selective memory only makes them recall that during a particular night – the peak – they can go out and see hundreds of shooting stars with their naked eye. As easy as that.
When I was back in Bucharest, at my astronomy club, this translated into visitors coming at the Astronomical Observatory, which is placed rather in the middle of the city, to see the shooting stars they had read about in the newspapers. With the light pollution around us and the limited time for visiting, you can imagine that most of them left the observatory rather disappointed and most certainly discouraged if this was the phenomenon astronomers proudly rated as top 3 next to eclipses and auroras, as Astroguyz correctly points out.
So I thought of a few ideas for observatories, planetariums, science centres etc. Ideas which I’m hopping will encourage you to share some of your Perseids outreach experiences with the public.
Close the observatory/planetarium and move to a dark area
You are not going to need instruments anyway so here’s your chance of not being dependent on a certain location. Plan to set up your observing station in a darker area, like a bigger park or somewhere at the outskirts of the city. Make sure you consult with public authorities and have their permission as well as security arranged.
Check your selected location during several nights and see if problems occur, like lighting from neighbouring areas. If it’s a park, arrange with local authorities to reduce the lighting during that night. If it’s an area next to the city, inform the locals in the area of the event, stressing the importance of dark skies and, better off, encourage them to join the event.
Make an announcement inviting people to join you for a star party to hunt meteors together. Give precise details of location, directions and map how to get there, but also establish a meeting point from where to go together. Include a list of things to have like warm clothes, sleeping bag and blankets, red light, recording devices (and obviously internet connection to join the global community at #MeteorWatch )
Open a single communication channel where people can register and keep in touch until the event and make sure you point this out in the announcement. Send the announcement to the press, place it on your website, tweet it, put it on Facebook, make a poster, distribute flyers to visitors in the prior nights. Basically, use all available channels as best you can.
Apart from the general announcement, invite some key people to whom you would like to impress with your activities for future collaborations: journalists from newspapers or online portals, bloggers and, why not, even local authorities.
Create a community
Use a communication channel, whether it is your Twitter account, Facebook page, a discussion group, a forum etc. to bind these people into a community. After all, they will be sharing one amazing experience. Invite people to subscribe there and encourage them to bring their families and friends or share cars with other participants if they have free places.
Get people ready by telling them more about meteor showers, presenting them how the observations should be done, sharing tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts. Develop resources like maps to download or direct them towards the MeteorWatch website. Explain them how they can actually make science if they submit their observation to #MeteorWatch with location details which you can provide.
Run the event
Meet your community, hope for good weather and go observe the shooting stars, enjoying this wonder of the night sky.
Go around the groups of people and make sure everything is alright, see how they are submitting information, explain more if the case, but be discrete. After all you want them to look up the sky.
Evaluate, reward and keep in touch
After a good day’s sleep, have a look and see the impact of your event: how many people attended, how many tweets were there, how the event was covered in the media before and after the event. Write down what went well and what went wrong and make sure you improve next year.
Spot the most active or enthusiastic participants and give them a free entrance to your observatory/planetarium. They might be one step away from becoming amateur astronomers.
Keep your community active. Thank people for joining, encourage them to share their impressions and to give you feedback. Continue sending them information to keep them interested.
Do it again next year. Bigger. Better.