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Sidewalk Astronomy in Ireland by Deirdre Kelleghan


What's going on in this picture? Look at it; we are on the pavement with a huge telescope. We were surrounded by light pollution from street lamps, houses, and a beach front glitzy fun fair. We had several telescopes that evening set up to share the night sky on International Sidewalk Astronomy Night. This image was taken to show our sidewalk astronomy activity using only available light, and was facilitated by members of The Irish Astronomical  Society and South Dublin Astronomical Society.

The atmosphere was drenched in yellow lights, spot lights, headlights and town lights. Why would we do this? What is the point?  We were of course not seeing the celestial delights on offer at their best in these suburban conditions. It was difficult to see constellations below 30 degrees as the stars were barely visible lurking in the murky orange haze where man made light diffuses and cloaks many distant beauties.

We do sidewalk astronomy to bring a little awe and wonder to people who rarely look up. We delight in showing our moon and any visible planets to our wide eyed attendees.  It was great to show the wonderful planet Saturn rising above Bray head - it made everyone who viewed it smile from ear to ear. Our moon's craters were the subject of many street-side conversations. Theophilus on the terminator was in very deep shadow but its central mountain was peeping through the blackness toward our sun's warmth. Several constellations many light years above the town were pointed out to our visitors. M45 looked terrific so close to the lunar limb - an image to remember, unique to the evening.

Saturn was in competition with a strong light beaming up from the fun fair rides. As it lit up the sky it crisscrossed the plane of the ecliptic and from time to time obliterated our Saturnian jewel.  For the majority of the attendees it was their first time seeing this gas giant in a telescope, a view they will never forget. Many also had their first close look at the moon, with jaw-dropping moments and WOW's of delight. One small boy said the moon was the best thing he had ever seen. Teddy bears were brought out to see the sky and several "jack the lads" arrived and verbalized their amazement, saying things like "**** sake , the moon is ****ing  awesome , never saw dat before , me Da would love it , how far is dat away?" Smile

The youngest person viewing that evening was 5 years old, the oldest person viewing was 89. Both young and old were first time observers and went home to bed with big smiles on their happy faces.

Sidewalk astronomy educates and surprises. Sidewalk astronomy sprinkles joy and knowledge at the same time. Sidewalk astronomy encourages people to look up more often and connect with the night sky. Perhaps in sharing the sky with people we can ignite a continuing dance between humanity, our planet in space and the journey we are all on together for our lifetimes.

One People One Sky is the motto of Global Astronomy Month. Spread a little joy on a sidewalk near you during April and be part of a worldwide movement to share what you know about the sky with others.

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