IYA events - January
So, it's the International Year of Astronomy at last. I've got plenty of plans for the year, some are fairly well advanced while others are still in very early stages. It's been busy already though, and it's been fun.
Last weekend, Roy and I took some telescopes, both optical and radio, and went down to Pinjarra for a few days to a large camp for Venturers from all over Australia. Venturer Scouts are 15 to 18 year olds, and there were 800 of them in one place for a week. The campsite was a good distance from Perth, on the edge of the hills, so there wasn't much light pollution around but, unfortunately, the moon was almost full which was a bit of a shame. Still, we had fun with the telescopes. We took a 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain from the astro lab at uni and borrowed a 16-inch Dobsonian from Scitech. After a few hiccups, we managed to get power out to the field and get everything running. Once the 5-inch was set up properly, we had an easy go-to system for when people arrived. The in-built sky tours are quite good for finding a quick set of interesting objects to show a group, especially when the sky is as swamped by moonlight as it was. The 16-inch is unmotorised and relys on the operator star-hopping to find objects. Roy got quite good at this, with the help of Stellarium, by the end of the weekend. The view was pretty good through this telescope, even with the Moon, I can't wait to have a go with it under some proper dark skies!
At the end of last year, Scitech coordinated the creation of a special planisphere for IYA. It is designed for use in Australia and will be usable across most of the continent, but it has IYA events information on the back which is specific to Western Australia. Several organisations around Perth ordered some, including me. Thanks to the Chief Commissioner for Scouts in WA, I was able to order 2000 of them! Just in time for the camp, the planispheres arrived so I took a box down to Pinjarra. (They're amesome, thanks Sue!) We gave away quite a few, but the rest should last for a while. I've had lots of requests to visit Scout groups around Perth, and I've already done a few last year. One group even came to Curtin to use telescopes, but we were unlucky and it rained! Never mind, they had a good time anyway I think, and there will be plenty more chances to see the stars this year. I've got several other events planned for Scouts this year, including (hopefully) an astronomy-themed camp later in the year. I've got involved with the Environment team as well and will be doing astronomy activities at some of their events this year.
The next event is a partial eclipse of the Sun on January 26th. Here in Perth, we see 22% of the Sun covered by the Moon at maximum eclipse, which occurs at about 6pm. Unfortunately, trying to do some public outreach around this event proved somewhat difficult. January 26th happens to be Australia Day where everybody gets very patriotic and has a good party by the sounds of it. During the time of the eclipse, it seems that a lot of people will be down on the foreshore having a good time waiting for the fireworks show which starts after dark. So, not deterred by the skeptisism of various people around here, I've planned something anyway. It's not very large-scale, because there's not a lot of point really, but I wanted to do something. So, I talked to South Perth Council who are running a "Family Zone" on the foreshore during the afternoon, and got permission to take a telescope down there to show people the Sun and the eclipse safely. I should stress that you should never look at the Sun through a telescope! A few years ago now, Stuart and I used my old telescope to demonstrate what happens to your eye if you do. Scary stuff. Use a proper filter or, even better, find someone who knows what they're doing. The bast way is to use projection to see the image, and that's what I'll be doing on Australia Day.
So anyway, that's my next IYA event. Then there's a day doing stuff with kids at a local PCYC (Police Commuity Youth Club), the astronomy camp, environment days, talks at the CSIRO lab at Scitech during Easter, and the AstroFest in November which Curtin are hosting, organised together with Scitech and the local astronomy societies. It's shaping up to be a busy, but exciting, year. Isn't it great?!