Since 1989 Sky & Telescope has honored amateur organizations whose events and displays best exemplify Astronomy Day's goal of "Bringing Astronomy to the People." On July 24th, at the AstroCon 2004 awards ceremony in California, the Georgia Southern Planetarium and the Statesboro Astronomy Club were honored for this year's winning effort.
Becky Lowder, the planetarium's assistant director, coordinated the day-long schedule of activities and the community star party held that evening. She accepted the award on behalf of the two organizations, which this year combined Astronomy Day activities with Space Day, a Youth Arts Festival, and June's transit of Venus. Lowder notes that Statesboro's celebration has been held annually for the past eight years.
The efforts of several other groups were recognized at the AstroCon banquet. The Iranian Astronomy Society, for example, received a "Best New Idea" certificate for its walk-around model of the ecliptic, which allowed visitors to see how constellations in the sky change throughout the year. In Nashville, Tennessee, Sudekum Planetarium coordinated its activities with those in Magdeburg, Germany, one of Nashville's sister cities. And the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science in Indiana hosted simultaneous star parties, such that no city resident was more than 6 miles from one of them. (Unfortunately, it rained!)
One group that continues to provide powerhouse events year after year is Hawaii's AstroDay Institute. Gary Fujihara, who runs the nonprofit organization, says this year's extravaganza attracted more than 15,000 people.
First celebrated in 1973, Astronomy Day has grown to include hundreds of celebrations across the United States and in many countries worldwide. The Astronomical League provides overall event coordination, and Gary Tomlinson serves as judge for the Sky & Telescope Astronomy Day Award. The top prize consists of a plaque presented at the League's national convention and a $250 gift certificate from Sky Publishing. Organizations become candidates for each year's award by submitting an official entry to Tomlinson. Next year's Astronomy Day will be celebrated April 16th.