Copyright 2007 Starry Mirror
Astronomy From West Virginia
EDITORIAL - INTRODUCING NEWCOMERS TO ASTRONOMY
BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) - From time to time at any astronomy club there will be a chance to introduce people who are new to astronomy to our interest. After many years of involvement in astronomy, I can say with certainty that the worst possible place for a newcomer to go looking for information about astronomy is among astronomers.
It seems that astronomers have no understanding of what the newcomer is interested in, and of what that person wants to see. Most clubs organize their meetings around nights when the Moon is not out, thus missing a chance to show newcomers the most telescopically fantastic object in the heavens. The worst thing any man can do is to show a newcomer a galaxy. Galaxies don't look like a damn thing in a telescope and considering that the newcomer will have a hard enough time finding the tiny hole in the eyepiece to look through, it is doubtful that he or she will see anything at all.
So, what are some good ideas for introducing a newcomer to astronomy? Well, don't just run and get your telescope because somebody mentioned the sky. If need be, make them wait until the Moon and Saturn are up in the sky. Schedule to give them a look when the Moon is at first quarter, because the lighting will be so spectacular.
Be prepared and know the location of Mare Tranquilitatis, so that you can show them the location near craters Ritter and Sabine where the astronauts first touched down. Try and be prepared to answer the most basic questions like the distance to the Moon, and its size. Never underestimate the ignorance of even supposedly educated people when it comes to astronomy. You could sell some of these people shares in a swiss cheese mine on the moon, they know so little.
If you are lucky and Saturn is up in the sky, be sure to turn your telescope on it. It will be harder for your guests to focus the telescope, so try and show them the right way to do it. Most people will really get a kick out of seeing Saturn's rings for the first time. Be sure to tell them to look for Cassini's division in the rings.
After this, you will already have exhausted most of what looks really super to people. You might try the Pleiades, or the Double Cluster, as they are impressive in their own right. The Orion Nebula will probably disappoint your guests but it's worth a shot. Beyond that, newcomers must come to appreciate things up there for what they are. Dim, hard to see, and not at all like in Star Trek. The thing is, that is the real universe. The universe is actually a dark place. If your newfound astronomer can appreciate it for what it is then he may join us. Otherwise, he can continue to be one of the ignorant masses who believes seasons are caused by the Earth's changing distance from the Sun and that the face on Mars was built by the Egyptians' second cousins. - GW