RAC's Educational Mission
Introducing astronomy to the public is an important
part of RAC's mission and we approach this in several ways, including
informative presentations at our monthly
club meetings and regularly scheduled monthly club
star parties held at area dark sky sites. Star parties are
evening observing sessions at which RAC amateur astronomers make
their telescopes available for public viewing of the night sky.
star parties are such excellent opportunities for the public
to learn about the sky, we also conduct public outreach star
parties by request for schools, state and local public parks,
scouts, homeschoolers and other community groups. Outreach events
must be arranged in advance through RAC's President, who also serves as
public outreach coordinator
RAC outreach events are primarily telescopic
observing sessions, with a minimum of astronomy history and theory.
The focus is on the workings of amateur telescopes and the nature
of objects that be viewed with small telescopes. Tthere are no
slide shows or tutorial presentations. Daytime school lectures
not involving telescopic observing may be requested via School
Programs Coordinator David Abbou.
RAC also hosts special teaching clinics
for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. These educational
sessions provide the training and experience need to earn astronomy
merit badges. Scouting clinics should be arranged through RAC's
Scouting Coordinator, Glenn Holliday, and more details may
be found on the RAC Astronomy for Scouts
Events: Where and When
As a small club with limited resources,
RAC prefers to combine public outreach events with our regular
monthly club star parties at Caledon
Natural Area if possible. However, if this is impractical
outreach events may be held at a site chosen by the requesting
organization, for example on the campus of a local school or
at a state or locality park. In this case the date must be different
than that of a club star party since it is difficult for RAC
to support a club star party and an outreach event at separate
sites on the same night.
Our regularly scheduled monthly star party dates may be downloaded in PDF
are included on our Star Parties
page. Outreach events are often timed to provide a good view
of the first quarter Moon in the early evening. It is the responsibility
of the organization requesting the outreach event to provide
a suitable location and crowd management.
The nature of amateur astronomy imposes
certain requirements on star parties. These have to do primarily
with the conditions needed to promote successful observing of
the night sky.
- Telescopic observing requires clear skies.
If cloudy skies are forecast, the event will be cancelled. We
try to make a determination no later than midday on the day of
the event. The decision is always based on the forecast -- and
if by chance the clouds do disappear in the evening the event
remains cancelled nonetheless.
- We need an area free of bright lights
and other sources of light pollution. Many of the things we observe
are very faint. Nearby street lights, exterior lighting and bright
interiors prevent the eye from adapting to the dark, limiting
the viewing experience.
- The Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn
may be observed in moderately light polluted locations. However,
not all of these objects are visible at any particular time,
and observing only these objects makes for a short event.
- Our equipment is heavy and not very portable.
We must park our cars at the spot where our telescopes will be
set up. The ideal location is in the middle of a large flat area
clear of obstacles. The ground must be dry as soggy turf will
not support (and may even damage) heavy instruments. A parking
lot with plenty of open space around the telescopes will work
- Many of today's telescopes are computer
controlled, allowing scopes to move quickly from one object to
another. However, these scopes must undergo a time-consuming
alignment and calibration process prior to use. This dictates
a period of unbroken concentration by the owner. Guests are welcome
to observe but must understand that owners may not be able to
devote full attention to questions until the process is complete.
- If you decide to visit with us, there
are a few rules of the road that help make star parties safer
and more enjoyable for everyone. Check them out at our Star
Party Etiquette page!
Safe Solar Observing
outreach events are scheduled during daylight hours and make
use of the club's solar telescope. Unlike ordinary telescopes,
this telescope is specially designed to be completely safe while
viewing the sun. It provides exciting views of solar prominences,
sunspots and temperature dependent granulations visible on the
solar disk. Needless to say, one should never look directly
at the sun without the presence of expert help and use of
solar filtering equipment.
One of the most important aspects of RAC
is to educate the public about astronomy and to raise awareness
of the negative aspects of light pollution. One cannot enjoy
the night sky if it is too bright from man-made lighting. See,
for instance, Scott Busby's paper about light pollution, Light
pollution: Classical Argument Position Paper. For more information
visit the web sites linked in the Light
Pollution section of our Links page.