Welcome to the home of a Sidewalk Astronomer in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. My name is Keith Cooper and I created this website to promote sidewalk astronomy locally and elsewhere.
About Sidewalk Astronomy
Sidewalk astronomy is nothing more than the practice of taking a telescope or binoculars out to where people congregate and showing them the wonderful objects in our skies. The purpose of doing sidewalk astronomy is as personal as the equipment used. Some people may do it for the purpose of promoting the science, or to educate others on the things that make up our galaxy and our universe. Some people may do it for the pleasure and satisfaction of showing others live images of things they have only previously seen in pictures or video. Some may do sidewalk astronomy to try to give people a sense of our place in the cosmos, or to illustrate the sheer size of the universe. The reasons are as varied as the people doing the observing.
My reasons for doing it have less to do with science and more to do with just sharing the wonder, the magnificence and the mystery of what has to be the most remarkable piece of artwork ever created, the universe. I receive as much from the observing sessions as the person who gazes upon Saturn for the first time. To hear the gasp of amazement and to see the incredulous expression on their face gives me more than sufficient reason to tolerate the cold or the bugs or the late nights.
I cannot match the images available through the internet or in magazines, but I can offer something they cannot, a live view under the stars. I have had more than one person offer me compensation for the views or use of my telescopes (which I always refuse); and I have had more than one person cry at seeing such unimaginable beauty of Saturn, Jupiter or a globular cluster; I have seen the look of sheer awe as people have fixed their eyes upon the Sun, taking in sunspots, filaments, prominences or an occasional flare; I have been hugged, kissed, asked to conduct private sessions, group sessions and to teach seniors about astronomy; I have had nights when I have been nearly over-whelmed by visitors to the eyepiece, and other times when just the foxes keep me company; I have been asked for interviews by various media, which I always decline, and have had my silly face in the paper or Twittered on more than one occasion.
After all of this I have come to terms with what drives me to continue in this passion: it is simply the desire to share the sense of inner peace and solitude I get when look into the universe, an abyss so large and with so much mystery, beauty and wonder and yet filled with a violence so extreme we cannot even begin to imagine and which creates as much as it destroys. These are things that most of us will never visit nor see up close. We can look at wonderful processed pictures and video, but there is some magical and mesmerizing in a view through a telescope. If I can help someone feel even a small part of what touches my soul when I stargaze, then my purpose is fulfilled. And yes, I also do it because it is fun.
I am not a scientist. In fact, I tell people I would make a lousy scientist as I do not have a scientific mind. I often have to look up the speed of light and don’t ask me to explain orbital motion, I understand it but cannot explain it. During my sidewalk sessions, I try to provide just enough information to make the observing object interesting for the person looking at it. Sometimes I have to look up new facts as I tire of hearing myself repeat the same old stuff.
I have had a life-long interest in astronomy but have only been involved since 1999, when I joined a local club and bought my first telescope, an 8 inch Dobsonian reflector. I bought my current telescope, a Celestron CPC XLT 1100 when I retired several years ago. Then last year I bought a Lunt 60mm PTHa solar telescope.
Although the CPC telescope is much too elaborate for sidewalk astronomy and inconsistent with the general philosophy to have inexpensive telescopes available for public observing, it serves me well for private deep-space observing and my public outreach events. Purists will claim that this is not astronomy as it is a go-to telescope, but I subscribe to the theory that it is the view that matters and not the tool. Besides, I prefer to spend more time looking at objects rather than looking for them. Furthermore, it allows me to show people more than one object quickly and then return to my primary object for the next group of people who stop by.
I am an unattached member (meaning I am unaffiliated with any centre) of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and I subscribe to Astronomy magazine annually. I have a number of astronomy books and have followed several online programs.
I have been recognized for my sidewalk astronomy efforts by the international Sidewalk Astronomers organization, founded by John Dobson, who is considered by many to be the father of modern sidewalk astronomy and is the inventor of the Dobsonian telescope, the top-selling telescope of all time.
I have been doing sidewalk astronomy around Charlottetown for five years now, in all seasons including winter. I record and report the number of people who visit me at the eyepiece to a number of astronomy groups in return for their support in form of public handouts.
As I write this at the end of August, 2013, for the current year I have held 59 sidewalk sessions over 171 hours around the city of Charlottetown and have had 1216 people observe the sun and stars with me.
About the Web Page
Which brings me to the web page. If you are thinking of doing Sidewalk Astronomy in your area, and you find anything on this site to be helpful, then the web site has served its purpose. Feel free to use what you may, and comment as you see fit. Drop me a note if you like, and we can share experiences or ideas. But above all, enjoy the views.
I originally established the web site to support myself and others engaged in the observation of the wonders of the universe through a loosely defined group called the Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown. The web site was to complement a Facebook group page of the same name and to provide a place where non-Facebook users might determine when and where we are doing Sidewalk Astronomy sessions.
Over time it has become apparent that there is insufficient interest and numbers to sustain a network of sidewalk stargazers in this area. There are many who enjoy the occasional viewing of the skies and there is a surprisingly large number of people with telescopes and binoculars. However, there are few who have the time and inclination and the passion to regularly participate in astronomy outreach events.
While the interest in astronomy is encouraging (130+ members of the Facebook group), having such small numbers of people willing to share their telescopes or binoculars or even their interest in an astronomy event makes developing any sort of group event nigh impossible.
Of the number of people who have telescopes, it is also surprising the many who don’t know how to use them, or what to observe in the sky. Yet the interest is not sufficiently strong to bring people out to sidewalk observing sessions or to participate in events.
Consequently I hope my webpage might help some people access information that will spur their interest and passion for astronomy. A simplified page of categorized links and a gallery of mostly local pictures may encourage more local participation and more interest overall for example.
About the Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown
My web site title will change slightly to A Sidewalk Astronomer in Charlottetown, and I will continue to support local efforts as an active member of the local Sidewalk Astronomers group. In the last year or two, there have been several individuals who have purchased telescopes and binoculars, based I believe on their experience at a sidewalk session, and a few who have brought their telescopes out to have some advice on using them, so there is reason for optimism. In fact I would like to specifically mention Matthew Campbell as he has often brought his eight inch Dobsonian out to sidewalk sessions.
The Facebook group Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown will exist as long as there are some like-minded individuals who have a passion for showing people the wonderful things that can be seen by looking into the depths of our universe and who would like to share their experience.
Perhaps at some time, a local group will evolve into a more cohesive and active body that will become generous local hosts of sidewalk sessions around our fair city. The local RASC has failed miserably at being an active astronomy group and doesn’t even do sidewalk astronomy. Despite my best efforts, I unfortunately have also been unsuccessful in being the catalyst to create such a dynamic observing group.
I will persevere however in my efforts to bring the wonders of the skies to local people, and I hope the Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown group find a sufficient core to do the same.