When it comes to showing off the sky to the public, the toughest sell has got to be convincing a passerby to look through a (safely filtered) telescope at the Sun.
But taking a peek at the crescent Moon or Saturn? A piece of cake! I've lost count of all the amazed "Oohs!" and "Ahhs!" that I've gotten by giving someone that priceless first view through a telescope.
That's the thinking behind a remarkable grass-roots effort to deploy an army of amateurs onto streets around the world on Saturday, April 12th, for International Sidewalk Astronomy Night.
ISAN is the brainchild of Donna Smith, a member of the famed Sidewalk Astronomers led by John Dobson. Last year's inaugural ISAN event involved an estimated 500 telescopes, 1,100 amateurs, and 25,000 members of the public at 154 locations in 28 countries.
"Last year we spent literally weeks contacting clubs and individuals," Smith told me. But this year the task was easier: "We just contacted our mailing list with the date and let them run with it. We are extremely pleased because it shows how much willingness, or actually eagerness there is for amateurs to take part in these public and international events and to use their initiative to make them successful."
OK, so maybe you've never tried sidewalk astronomy. I can hear your excuses now: "I don't know enough about the sky" or "There's too much light pollution." Well, here's your big chance! This weekend there'll be a nice first-quarter Moon, Saturn and Regulus are gliding together high overhead, and the Big Dipper is in plain view. If you need more inspiration to get you out the door, take 2½ minutes to check out last year's ISAN event from Byron Bay, Australia.
What are you waiting for?! Grab that scope, and make a difference! Then leave a comment below to share your experience with others.