International Astronomy Day occurs on May 7 and will be celebrated around the world. Many amateur astronomy clubs will be celebrating this day and for the following week; so, for many clubs, it will be Astronomy Week!
What is International Astronomy Day? International Astronomy Day was started by Douglas Berger in 1973. At that time, Doug was president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California.
He initiated this day to get people in urban areas interested in astronomy. To do this, he began setting up telescopes in public places so that people could use them to enjoy gazing into space. The programs he started occurred in downtown settings, mostly at night. However, IAD really caught on across the world, so now it is celebrated globally. Now, local astronomy clubs set up telescopes both day and night for public viewing during this week.
Why set up telescopes in the daytime? What is there to see? The sun, of course!
Special Note: Many people know that it is very unsafe to look at the sun in the daytime without any filters or eye protection and they are correct -- you can easily burn your eyes and even blind yourself if you look at the sun with the naked eye without proper protection. Do not do this!
So, how can one look at the sun safely? Look at the sun through a telescope that has a proper and safe solar filter attached to the front end of the telescope. This is done every day for solar observers and this allows for the careful study of the sun by many amateur astronomers who have dedicated their viewing to seeing and photographing the sun.
Mark out May 7 on your calendar. This will be a Saturday, so many will be free to come to a viewing of the sun equipped with a telescope that will have the proper safety equipment. This viewing of the sun will occur on the grounds of the Siloam Springs Public Library, beginning at about 7 a.m., though the actual viewing may begin a bit later since the sun needs to rise high enough to permit good viewing. At the same time, the Siloam Springs Farmer's Market will be in progress, right on the sidewalk of the street next to the Library. It will be easy to find because one will easily be able to see various vendors, lined up along the street, selling their products.
I will be at this time of solar viewing. I am a member of Sugar Creek Astronomical Society and other Society members will be at this event as well. I will be bringing a telescope that is equipped with the necessary safe filters so the sun can be viewed without harm. This telescope allows safe viewing of the sun in the same wavelengths as ordinary visual light. In addition, I will be bringing a special telescope that allows visual examination of the sun in the wavelength generated by excited, super-heated, Hydrogen. When the sun is viewed in this wavelength, it appears as a bright red globe. If we are lucky, we may see various solar details and processes which I will be glad to point out if such features appear. Of course, there is one caveat to this whole process. If it rains, or it is clouded over, we won't be viewing anything in the telescopes! Assuming the weather is good, I will also have available some free brochures that describe Sugar Creek Astronomical Society and its programs. If you have ever wanted to join an astronomy club, we can give you information about joining just such a club.
Looking across a wider area on May 7, there also will be solar viewing at Diamond, Mo. This will take place at George Washington National Monument, with special activities for children. This presentation will be from 1-4:30 p.m. On the evening of May 14, SCAS will offer a night viewing session at Hobbs State Park. Activities start at 7 p.m. Viewing will start after sunset, which will be at 8:16 p.m. The moon will be the featured object, but stars, constellations and star clusters will also be viewed.
In May, if you get up just before dawn, you can see Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn aligned across the southeastern sky. Use binoculars to get a better view and, if you have a telescope, good viewing!
The spring constellation Leo the Lion will be overhead in May and June. His head will look like a reverse question mark and his hindquarters will be a triangle of stars most people can easily see, trailing about two finger widths, held at arms distance, behind his head.
May is full of good things to see and great activities to attend -- keep looking at the free show!
David Cater is a former faculty member of JBU. Email him at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.