August 13, 2017: Inreach and Perseids

Inreach?  Is that something we shouldn’t be talking about (let alone doing) in front of children?  No, it’s outreach directed inwards towards the members of an astroclub.  Last night, the Denver Astronomical Society held a terrific inreach event out at our dark site location, 60 miles east of town.

Outreach is fun for the general public.  We set up our telescopes, whether it’s night or day, and let the public come on over and have a look at the sun, or moon, or Jupiter, or Saturn.  And sometimes, they’ll even get a look at the Hercules Globular Cluster, or the Pleiades, or the Andromeda Galaxy, or the Orion Nebula, as well.  That’s fine, but that’s just a short weekend night activity for a lot of folks as they go to or come back from dinner or a movie.  While the public certainly appreciates the view, the vast majority of them don’t just up and join astroclubs right after getting a look at Saturn.

Inreach is different.  Many astroclubs experience a high rate of “churn”.  That’s when new people who have more than just a casual interest in astronomy join the club, but they don’t get to experience all that the club has to offer, or they don’t learn anything useful or helpful from the club.  So almost all of these new members end up leaving after their year is up, with a new crop of members coming in right behind them.  Inreach is an activity, an event, that’s directed specifically at the club’s members, and especially, the new members, designed to stop that from happening so that they get more out of both the club and the hobby itself.

Inreach can be simple; it can be anything:  How do I set up and use that equatorially mounted scope I just bought, and what are its advantages?  What else do I look for after I’ve looked at the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn?  What are the differences between all of these eyepieces, and how do I know which ones to choose?  Or, in the case of last night, what’s out there at the club’s dark sky site, how dark are the skies, and how do I get to use it?  Inreach is members helping other members.

One of the key benefits of being a member of an astroclub is access to the club’s dark sky site.  The DAS dark site is in a dark blue area on the light-pollution map, so the skies are wonderfully dark out there.  However, there are a lot of rules, procedures, and safety considerations to using a dark site that people don’t know.  In the DAS, until members receive an orientation on how to use the dark site, they’re not permitted to go out there and use it alone.  They can go out with a member who has been oriented, but not alone.

The club heavily promoted this dark site inreach event to its members over the past few club events.  The place ended up being packed, with every concrete observing pad but one being taken.  There was barely enough room even for another car to come into the site and park.  The crowd size was especially amazing because there had been a huge downpour at 5pm, just as people were deciding whether or not to even come out for the evening, and even after the rain, the skies did not look promising at all – and neither was the weather forecast.  I’ve railed in the past against the inability of the forecast to predict conditions down to the hour, let alone down to four hours, so I’ll spare you that part of it.

We ended up with about 40 “newcomers” who got oriented out at the dark site.  This included some longtime members who had simply never made the trip out there, or hadn’t been out there in years.  It was an incredibly successful event.

We also helped the newcomers learn how to use their equipment and find things in the sky, and that’s always incredibly important as well – and a real high point for me, personally.  I didn’t even bring my scope out, as I was there to help people out.  And help I did!  I was helping a father and daughter with their new 8″ dob – and managed not to say one single word about collimation.  (Heh, heh!)  It’s always fun for me to see the sky again for the first time through the eyes of others.  I also like to spark their interest with random facts about what we’re looking at.  For example, that the light we’re looking at from Andromeda is so old that it left there when there weren’t even humans running around on the earth at the time.  I’m just a font of useless information like that, y’know?

Inreach is what keeps new members continuing to be members until they’re old members, without all the churn.  If they’re getting something out of the club, if they’re learning something, if they’re seeing great stuff, they stay in the club.  Inreach also expands the hobby far more than outreach does.  People who are members of an astronomy club become ambassadors for the hobby, showing their scope and the sky to their friends at a dinner party or somesuch.  Friends who wouldn’t necessarily come out to an outreach session.  The more members there are, the more ambassadors, so it has a multiplying effect.

If your club doesn’t have an inreach program, ask “Why not?” at your club’s next meeting.  Then, take the initiative, and, with the club’s approval, get one going yourself.  Let’s grow this hobby!


 

The Perseids were very nice at the dark site.  Over the course of just over 2 hours or so between the ending of twilight and the rising of the moon, there were a good half dozen or so fireballs passing by.   Arcing fireballs, with long trails coming out behind them.  Not that I saw them all, but I did see a few.  The rest I “heard” from the “ooohs” and “aaahs” of the crowd while I was busy looking at something else.

But who are these idiots who are always saying “60-70, even 80 meteors per hour“?  We were out at a very dark site, with almost 6th magnitude skies.  If anyone in the world was going to see 60-70 meteors per hour, it would be us.  We saw maybe a dozen an hour.  Maybe.  Mind you, they were nice, they were terrific; I’m not in any way complaining about what we saw.  But 70?  What are these people smoking?  And no, putting the words “up to” in front of the numbers doesn’t change the incredible falsity of the prediction.

It never looks like this.  EVER.  Not even close.

That didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen last year.  That never happens.  And it’s ridiculous for them to say that it will happen.  This leads to, as usual, the general public mistrusting what science has to tell them.  Why?  Because, yet again, just like with all of these stupidmoons the media repeatedly keep telling us about every few months, the public was lied to.  I am not one much for supposed “fake news”, but this is an easy example of it.  That’s not what we need, especially in the current climate of anti-science rhetoric.

 

Next time:  The Great American Eclipse!

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