We Observe by Anthony Mallama
Updated January 18, 2002
The 16" Stokes Reflector
During the mid 1970's, the explosive growth in observing was paralleled by extraordinary civic involvement. A large number of members participated in these activities, including public star parties, slide shows, public awareness campaigns, television and radio appearances, and formal classroom instruction. Most of this outpouring of public interest occurred from 1974 through 1978 during the presidencies of George Gliba, Chris Stephan, Tom Quesinberry and Dan Rothstein. In no small measure those same members lead the campaign, since the club has never had a separate public relations officer.
The best historical document concerning this period was written by Tom and George for a talk at the national Astronomical League convention in 1976. It was reprinted in the Valley Skywatcher in 1976, and it is reproduced below in its entirety.
A Civic Involvement
"Shortly after the election of 1975, Tom Muggleton, George, and myself began to review our club's role in civic activities.
Our club was growing larger each month, and we felt the CVAS should expand itself to better serve our membership and contribute more to the cultural development of our community.
"With NASA and America's space program generating large amounts of interest in space, we realized that many others wanted to know more about amateur astronomy. We felt we should offer to share our knowledge and club activities with the public.
"This effort, at first, was tagged the CVAS Public Education Project, but that was short-lived.
The Bumper Stickers
"Our dark pollution awareness campaign had started during the spring of 1974, when we decided to do something to combat dark pollution. After much discussion, we decided to have anti-dark pollution bumper stickers printed. After considering various slogans from members during our regular monthly meetings, the slogan 'Would you rather see streetlights or starlight' was adopted. Our first initial 1,000 bumper stickers were ordered from Mars Printing Company during early summer of that year, and were ready by August.
"Pledges and donations paid for the first batch, which cost about a hundred dollars. They were given out free first, to CVAS members; then at the annual Ohio Turnpike Astronomers Association meeting at Mahoning Valley Observatory, at Warner and Swasey Observatory lectures, to the 9th grade earth science class at Kenston High School, at CVAS Public Star parties, and to friends and associates. The first supply of bumper stickers was exhausted in a mere three months.
"Before we ordered the second printing from the Mars Printing Company, we decided to make two design changes. First, to change the slogan to 'I would rather see starlight than streetlights'; second, to have the next batch of 1,000 printed on sturdier weather resistant paper.
"In late 1975 we decided to accelerate our bumper sticker campaign against dark pollution. We gave numerous public lectures on amateur astronomy and sold our bumper stickers afterwards. We decided that the modest profits would all go towards printing up more stickers. Then we sent letters to Popular Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines and hoped for some results.
"To our astonishment, our dark pollution bumper sticker was published on 1/4 page in the Club News section, in the fifth issue of Popular Astronomy. This assured us that several tens of thousands would see our bumper sticker; if they ever received the fifth issue. At about the same time, we advertised our 'anti-light pollution' bumper sticker in the STAR GAZERS Exchange of Sky & Telescope magazine.
"Besides being sold at our Public Awareness lectures and through STAR GAZERS Exchange, they were sold locally at star parties, astronomical conventions, and to numerous friends and associates.
"The response is being felt more each week as more people learn about our campaign and bumper stickers. Several professional astronomers have them on their cars. Perhaps our greatest thrill came when Mt. Wilson of Hale Observatories ordered twenty stickers.
"We're now at the end of our third batch of a thousand and ready to order our 4,000th dark pollution sticker printed up. We see no time in the future we'll stop our campaign unless the majority of society realizes the value of the natural nighttime environment.
A Star Party
"Our first public awareness event was an the night of the November Total Lunar Eclipse, We had a Star Party at the Woodside Farm, a 100 acre farm with a good observing environment located only 2 miles from Chagrin Falls. Several friends and associates were invited to attend. About two dozen persons showed up. Five telescopes were set up in a pasture behind the barn.
"That night was super clear and we all agreed the weather couldn't have been better. The rising totally eclipsed moon was spotted during dusk with a Celestron 8-inch. It was soon after found by other telescopes. We all watched the moon's exit from the earth's shadow as it rose high with great delight. Several bumper stickers were given to everyone before they left.
"The second event of our Public Awareness Project is one most people will find of interest. Dr. Burger, a Physical Science professor at Cuyahoga Community College, asked us if several members of our club would be interested in coming to his class and talk about our science. During the same class, one of Cleveland's most famous astrologers also spoke.
"The class was two hours long, with the astrologer having the first sixty minutes. Our sixty minutes was spent talking about comets, telescopes, Viking to Mars, and answering many questions concerning astronomy.
"It was our suggestion what we debate the merits of astronomy vs. astrology, but noting that we had only two hours, Dr. Burger felt that such an encounter should be left for a future date, which we are looking forward to.
"Our first Public Awareness lecture and second Star Party was at Mrs. Lois Place's fifth grade class at Lewis Sands School in December 1975. About 50 students and parents attended. Seven CVAS members brought six telescopes, including an 8-inch Celestron, 8-inch Newtonian, 6-inch RFT reflector, 5-inch RFT refractor, 4-inch Unitron, and a 3-inch RFT refractor. The telescopes were used to show the moon, Jupiter, double stars, and various deep sky objects. This was followed by a short lecture and astronomical slide narration. The dark pollution stickers were given to everyone present. We've been asked by the school board to do this again next year.
"Shortly after our star-party for the 5th graders at Lewis Sands school, Mrs. Jane Harder, a third grade teacher asked if one of our members would be willing to come talk to her class. I gave an hour slide narration for forty students, followed by a half hour question and answer period on the relevance of astronomy, which would have gone longer had time allowed.
This also has become a yearly club activity.
A Window Display
"In January 1978 one of our members suggested that we put together a window display, and show it wherever possible.
"In January, Tom contacted the Fireside Book Store in Chagrin Falls concerning us having a window display in their front window. The owner liked our idea, and encouraged us to have it ready for their next display. After some time, planning and running around for props, we assembled the display in plenty of time to be installed.
"The display, we felt, exhibited not only some of the efforts of our club, but dealt with amateur astronomy in general.
"We used two bulletin boards as the main backdrop. Posted on the boards were our CVAS membership cards, our AAVSO membership, and numerous charts, several planetary drawings by our more skilled members and pictures of various astronomical objects taken by our membership.
"The floor of the display was covered with our bound Skalnate-Pleso charts. Placed on the charts were other astronomical instruments including: a 3-inch refracting objective with cell, an antique 1-inch Mossburg spotting scope, a six and an eight-inch reflecting mirrors, a Norton's Star Atlas, three or four Patrick Moore books, AAVSO charts, eyepieces, a red flashlight, our bumper stickers, plus other things used by our membership.
"The display was for two weeks and seeing where it's pretty hard to walk through Chagrin Falls without passing the Fireside, we felt the maximum number of people viewed our display.
"We received many compliments on this display, and seeing where we felt it was an excellent effort at public education, we arranged for the display to be moved from Fireside to the Student Union at Kent State University.
"Being a Kent State student I allowed a little time to observe our display twice, and both times I noticed it attracted a lot of attention.
"After a week at Kent State University, the display was disassembled, then reassembled shortly thereafter to be exhibited at Lakeland Community College for a week. We have brought the display with us, and it can be seen at our exhibit here.
"On January 31st the Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society attended the Parmatown Telescope Fair, held in the main entrance to the Parmatown Shopping Center. This event was sponsored by the Ohio Turnpike Astronomers Association, of which we are members. Four of us were there for about eight hours. We had several exhibits on display, including amateur-made telescopes, and two bulletin boards about our organization and amateur astronomy in general. We also gave 2 lengthy slide show talks to many hundreds of people waiting in line to see a movie, or strolling by the telescope exhibits. We sold several dark pollution bumper stickers, and most importantly, talked to folks about the beauty of the natural nighttime environment.
"In November of 1975, the public relations committee contacted the Eastern Campus of Cuyahoga Community College about our club teaching a non-credit class on astronomy.
"At our December meeting it was announced that our application had been accepted and we were to start on January 7, 1976.
"The first session of the classes were designed by George and myself. It consisted of six classroom meetings and a star party. Each class was taught by a different club member, and the weekly topics were: the history of astronomy, the planets and our solar system, galaxies (ours and others), telescopes, optics, observatories, variable stars and constellations. The first session had ten students enrolled in it, and was attended by our membership as well as our students.
"The club was paid fifteen dollars an hour for our efforts. The class met once a week, on Tuesday nights from 8:00 to 10:00. Two weeks after winter's session, the club received a check for $209.76 in the mail, with an invitation to teach the next quarter.
"After the first session ended, and we'd received the check, two questions arose within the club. First, what do we do with the money, and second, how can we improve our class for the spring quarter?
"Our membership concluded it would be fair to allow each teacher $10.00 credit in the CVAS treasury. The speakers donated the money to the club, or used it to pay dues, buy bumper stickers or T-shirts. The first check nearly doubled our treasury.
A Teaching Committee
"The first session had been headed by myself, but halfway through the class I found myself moved to 3:00 to 11:00 shift, and always an Tuesday night. I felt that a committee should control the class, and our most capable teacher should chair the committee. At our March meeting I proposed this committee and suggested Dan Rothstein, our treasurer, be chairman. I felt that Dan was an excellent choice not only because he was an outstanding member, but he has a masters degree in astrophysics and had taught two classes in astronomy at Kent State University.
"Dan did not change the format much, but began having several members teach certain classes in order to make things run more smoothly. This approach worked very well, and classroom work became informative and less a burden on an individual speaker.
"We feel our Tri-C classes were a complete success. We offered our students and members useful information sources on practical amateur astronomy. We offered our members a chance to become active in teaching astronomy to those who wanted to learn, thus becoming more involved in our hobby.
"August 5th, I was again contacted by Tri-C concerning teaching our class for the third time. It would seem we've become part of their staff!
"In March the CVAS gave a talk on amateur astronomy and dark pollution to about 30 girls in the Earth Science Class at Beaumont High School. The use of an equatorial telescope was demonstrated with a Celestron 8. Amateur telescope making was demonstrated to the students. The amateur astronomers contribution in variable star, cometary, and meteoritic astronomy was discussed. An astronomical slide show was narrated; followed by a question and answer period. The students were given dark pollution stickers, planispheres, and an ephemeris for Comet West. The faculty has asked us to give the program again sometime.
"Our third public awareness lecture and Star Party was given in February 1975 to the Metropark naturalist group at the North Chagrin Reservation Trailside Interpretive Center. An astronomical slide show talk was given to 35 naturalists that were present. This was followed by a demonstration on observing with an equatorially mounted telescope, and a discussion about the growing deterioration of the natural nighttime environment. Bumper stickers were sold to most participants. The Star Party was not held because the northeastern Ohio weather did not cooperate.
"On the night of May 10th the CVAS held its 2nd annual Kent State University Public Star Party, sponsored by the Physics department. It was held at Smythe Hall on the main campus. Six telescopes were on the scene. Two 10-inch Newtonians, one 8-inch Celestron, a 6-inch RFT, and a 2.4-inch Unitron. A talk on occultations was given by Gary Ringler of the International Occultation Timing Association. The excellent film Stars, Galaxies, and Southern Skies from AURA was shown to those present. Displays on basic telescope optics were set up in the main hallway entrance. Coffee and bakery was sold.
About 40 people attended the program. Several dark pollution bumper stickers were sold to activists. One to a news reporter for the Geauga Times Leader who subsequently wrote an article about the KSU star party and our dark pollution campaign.
"The final event in our public awareness project was the eleventh annual public star party at Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls. It was a great success. The skies were super clear and an estimated 150-200 people came and went during the course of this event. An astronomical slide show was given. Refreshments were sold as were several of our dark pollution bumper stickers. A dozen telescopes ranging in size from a 2-inch refractor to a 12 1/2-inch Newtonian reflector were set up for viewing the starry domain. The crowd was shown the Moon, nebulae, double stars, star clusters, and Comet d' Arrest. The public Star Party broke up at 11:00 PM. The remaining CVAS members retreated with their 'scopes to the country's unspoiled dark environment.
"Now in August of 1976 the Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society's public awareness project is far from over. As a matter of fact, we feel it should be expanded far beyond what it has been. By giving this paper here today, we hope other members of the Astronomical League will become interested in starting a similar project.
"Our club, by making speakers available to the public, and by sponsoring our own events, has reached thousands of people in our area in only seven months.
"We feel that our club has made steps forward in public education. We feel that a good way to become involved is to contact the educational institutions in our area. Naturally, we are limited in how many of these institutions we can talk to. Therefore, we feel it important that other astronomy clubs realize their opportunity to become active in public education.
"From our own personal experience with the growing deterioration of the night skies, we've lost a full magnitude in a decade. We're sure other astronomers share our problem.
"Won't you join us in our fight to help save the night? We are giving this paper today because we knew we'd be reaching other astronomers throughout the country.
"We feel that the Astronomical League could help to coordinate a national awareness program. We've proven that an average amateur club can reach many people in its area and have a good time being activists.
"We are sure that folks would rather see starlight than streetlights!"
Similar public activities were sponsored by the club before and after the Public Awareness Campaign. However, the campaign seems to represent a high water mark brought about largely through the efforts of Tom Quesinberry, George Gliba, and the support of Dan Rothstein and other members. The club is indebted to them for their efforts and fortunate that these efforts were so clearly documented.
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