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Powell Observatory Forum

There has been some conversation going around the ASKC about opening Powell Observatory up for the public every Saturday night during the period from May through October. Our Observatory Director, Nick Reuss, thinks this is achieveable, if we have 50 key holders total in the club. Scott Kranz, President of ASKC, and Dave Hudgins, Vice President have both mentioned this idea too.

I bet we could even get newspaper radio and TV public service announcements to increase the public awareness if the observatory were open EVERY Saturday night from May through October.

Several of us have noticed that there appears to be alot of confusion on the part of the public as to when the public nights are scheduled despite our constant efforts to publicize our schedule. I know from personal experience that every Saturday night I have been at the observatory when a public night is not scheduled that people show up anyway hoping something is going on and are disappointed when they find out it is not a public night.

Also public night programs usually run about an hour and a half and are over except for a lingering few. What if we had a public session for an hour and a half starting at dusk, with a short (30 min) program and an hour of observing every Saturday night? Then the public session is over and those who want to hang around and watch what is going on could stay, what kind of additional revenue would it generate and what kind of increase in membership would it bring?

How many people would be needed to do this? I think 2 or 3 people could easily do this. One to present the program and one to collect the money and help run the scope. After the program we could have a person on the scope and one on the binoculars and one on the Visual Observing Station. It will be available by then. It would be nice to have a current list of keyholders and teams so we could see how many people we have on each team. I know there are usually so many people on the team I am on that we have lots of folks with nothing to do.

If we do this then the observatory would be available for private use for members after the public session is over so it would not eat into the members' use of the equipment that much. Friday nights would still be available for private star parties and member use.

We will soon have a new computer in the classroom and capability to do CCD imaging while observing with the 30" or the 9" scope. We can run the CCD right now on any of the three telescopes on our 30" platform. As a matter of fact I just took an ST7 camera down to Powell and left it for use on the 30" platform. It is a camera I was able to get used off Astromart and it works great. It is an anti-blooming ST7 and will take pretty pictures and can be used to do drift scanning too. It is my backup camera for when one of my cameras at Sunflower is in the shop. I will only need it when that situation occurs. Soon we will have the ST9E and that will give us two cameras owned by the club and this ST7 so we can do just about anything we want.

We can actually hook up the ST7 on the 30" or on one of the two refractors and show what we are looking at in the eyepiece on the monitor in the classroom. Cool huh?

Everyone in the club should learn how to do CCD if they are interested. We now have the equipment to do it. Perhaps we could even have special sessions for that after the public leaves.

Lets get some dialog going on these ideas and see what everyone thinks. Please email me your ideas and I will post them on this web page so everyone can see everybody's thoughts and ideas. We have so many creative minds in the ASKC that I am sure that we can come up with some great ways to increase public awareness and member participation.

Please email this URL to your friends in the ASKC whose emails I may not have.

Thanks for your ideas.

Larry Robinson

Thoughts from others:

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:00:28 EST
Subject: Re: Every Saturday Night

Hey Larry! My thoughts are: If we have enough key holders and volenteers to have it open twice as much lets do it! I would certainly enjoy it.


We have a BBS on the Asteroid site where we can encourage discussions like these too.

Anyway, it sounds good to me. Also we can make up various canned CDs that I spoke of before, one to cover Asteroid work, another for Pretty Pictures, and many others to cover almost anything anyone can think of. These will help relieve some of the pressure for the key holders.

Think, we can even burn and sell copies of them onsite on pub niters for those who wish to purchase them.

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:14:07 -0600
From: J Alburty


I think the increased public night idea is great. I would like to be able to tell people to head on out there any Saturday night instead of having to think twice about the schedule. I am willing to help out with staffing.

As an extension to the idea of the monitor in the classroom, what about broadcasting the eyepiece view to a local TV station?

Joe Alburty

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 10:38:34 -0600
From: David Hudgins
Subject: Re: please contribute your ideas

As an experiment, I suggest we have weekly programs at Powell - but of higher quality and more efficiently run. For the upcoming 26 weeks, maybe have six small teams each develop a really good slide and "under the stars" program.

Each week a team would present their "show", cycling thru the SAME six programs all summer. There is TREMENDOUS material available on the web, and easy to make great slides for our use. As Nick (or was it Larry?) suggested, we then keep those high quality package programs for use (by other teams) at Powell Gradens and private parties. Then recycle the same programs after skipping a year! The current process of developing a new program for each public night is VERY wasteful, and has sometimes resulted in programs that were not the quality level that maybe we should shoot for.

Perhaps we can look at programs offered by other organizations (professional and amateur) and use the best ideas for format, content, a/v tools, method of presentation, etc. You know, compare our public program effort with others - in industry this is called "benchmarking". :^ )

Hey, if we offer a better quality product, we should raise the donation too!!


From: "Gina Fedon"
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 11:45:04 -0600

I have mixed feelings... On one hand it would invite more people to take advantage of what we can offer as well as rack a few new members. Plus, it'd be easier for the public to remember when the observatory is open ("Is it this Saturday or next?").

On the other hand, it would preclude private star parties for the members on a night when they don't have to work the following day. It would force members to use the observatory only on work nights, which is a bit unfair too. One could say that the members can use the observatory after the public has left, which is always true; but in summer it doesn't really get dark until late, so accordingly the public lingers around longer in order to observe. Consequently, the members can't start really using the observatory until REALLY late.

Mind you, I don't say this because of my personal interest, since we have our own observatory for CCD and can use the 16" on the field outside Powell. I'm just considering all sides.

I haven't made up my mind yet. Perhaps we could be open every other Saturday?


Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 13:42:08 -0600
From: Nick Reuss

A couple of pennies worth of thought from the director of the P.O.C.:

I look forward to hearing comments and suggestions.

After Keyholder training is completed in April, the ASKC should have 50 happy, trained, confident, keyholders ready for the May to October observing season. The obligations of being a keyholder will be reviewed and at this time include basically 2 public duty nights at the P.O.C. and one at the gardens and one duty week stint per season (more or less).

I would love to see from that core, 12 dedicated, reliable keyholders that form the nucleus of our public programs at the Powell Observatory Complex. Taking the example of professional programs like the excellent Michael Bakich programs at the planetarium, and science and planetarium and observatory programs that I have seen around the country from Tucson's Kitt Peak to Chicago's Musium of Science and Industry, we put together quality repeatable programs. The same public individuals don't come back week after week after week just like we didn't go to the K.C. Planetarium week after week after week. With 12 "Public Program Educators", a two person team would pull duty every 6 weeks, about four times during the public season. Best of all, these programs would be a permanent part of our education library that would grow and grow and grow and would take the pressure off of our other presentation programs.

Ok, what about keyholders that are not Program Educators? Well, they would do their duty weeks at about the same rate as now, staff Powell gardens as always, and handle off site events. This program would not prohibit or demand participation that is aberrant from the present system. We just focus and make better use of our resources. (And encourage a little greater participation from the general membership.) Don't volunteer if you don't find the slightly more demanding P.E. duties attractive, but feel free to help out if you would like. I am confident that the goal of 50 keyholders is attainable. Except for the dozen or so that I hope would embrace this program, factors of pressure, time and responsibility should, overall, be reduced.

I have a plan on paper that I think will work. It is written in pencil and I have a big gummy eraser.

Here are two more points to consider. I am announcing (O.D. message given to Denise two weeks ago) the revival of "Membership Nights" on the second Saturday of each month. These are starting at 3:00 so members can have 1/2 a day at home with family and weekend chores, etc. Programs like the last month's excallent Astro-Photo presentation with Tom Martinez will start by 4:00 sharp. We'll do CCD workshops and build barn door mounts and learn how to collimate, explore astro-tips and tricks, etc. This would go into the night. "Old Timers" will remember, this used to be a lot of fun. And a great way to share and learn. I'm excited because it is like a "Hyper-Tool-Time" that even I can participate in!

So this begs the question, if we have the first and 3rd Saturdays reserved for Public Nights and the 2nd Saturday reserved for Membership Nights (by the way, anyone, members or public would be welcome. Membership night simply implies a more focused interest. Our more "focused" guests would be welcome), and we have our General Meeting on the 4th Saturday, how can we have a public session every weekend?!!!

The answer is simple. Cloning technology.

Actually, there are a couple of possibilities. I'll mention just one for now. What about having our public nights on Friday?

Please think about this. PBS radio has a segment called "Science Friday". Friday has always been science oriented. Science fiction shows on TV run late into the night. I look forward to Friday afternoons listening to Scientists talk on the radio. Wouldn't it be cool if "Science Friday on PBS" lead into "AstroFriday at Powell"? Other things happen on Saturday, parties, travel to grandmas, chores, sleep. Friday night is a 'week-night...' But the absolute coolest of all week nights. Get off work, dinner with the family, then a movie... wait, wait. Instead of a movie, how about an evening at the P.O.C.? In the summer time, the sun sets about 8:30, plenty of time for public and teams to arrive and enjoy a nice evening together.

Now, with our public obligations taken care of each and every Fridays (including the Gardens, which would not be affected in anyway), we have Saturdays to attend General Meetings, Membership Nights, stay out at the P.O.C. all night Saturday by ourselves or with guests or just relax and stay at home like the rest of the world.

I am the Observatory Director at the P.O.C. and I want to emphasize that this is NOT an announcement of new operating procedures!!! I got an e-mail from Larry and Jackie this morning just like the rest of you all did. I have spoken to many of you over the years about these and other ideas, including Larry, and I welcome his initiative to stimulate discussion and explore possibilities. Keyholder training starts March 5th and our public season starts in May. If we are going to try something this year, we need to hustle.

You now have my 2 cents worth.

Nick Reuss


Powell Observatory Complex

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 14:23:58 -0700
From: "Michael E. Bakich"
Subject: public nights at Powell

Hi, Larry.

Thanx for your thoughtful e-mail including me. Here are my thoughts:

1) Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will do more for public astronomy education in the KC area than regularly-scheduled, weekly nights at Powell. Whether they are on Friday or Saturday, it doesn't matter. I believe that Saturday would work better, as more people are not rushed at the end of the day on Saturday the way that they are on Friday, having just gotten off work, school, etc.

2) The idea of a few, repeatable, shows is excellent. There is no need to kill people trying to come up with a new program every week. Have a labeled slide tray for each program. One on the planets, one on early summer constellations, one on late ones, one on the Moon, etc., would be great. If a certain planet is "on" for that night, the person giving the program is free to spend a little more time on that particular object.

3) Publicity is crucial. Nothing will kill this program faster than committed people giving programs to 2 or 3 visitors. If "too many" people show up, well then, you'll just have to do an extra show. Believe me, that's far better than hoping that no one shows up and having one person drive up three minutes after the scheduled starting time. Remember the Hale-Bopp craze? On one of those nights I did 7 half-hour slide shows! Man, was I beat, but I went to bed with a smile on my face. And I know that the people who were there (Vic, Nick, Gil, etc.) did too. Heck, I even brought a date with me once to look at the comet and ended up giving 4 programs! She apparently understood, as we're now married. (How's that for doing a good show?) Back to publicity, though. I don't know if anyone in the club has kept up with someone at one of the TV stations, but if so, a wonderful thing to have happen is for Busby or someone else on the Friday night weather to mention that there's something happening tomorrow night at Powell and for info, call - - - -. News releases (keep them short and professional) also help. Send them to the Star and all the other weekly papers a week before you begin. Two months after you've started, send out another with an many people, what you've given programs on, the objects that people have enjoyed the most, etc. Then, a month before you end the run, send out another. I suggest Jackie Wade to write them. (Funny how 1,000 miles of separation gives me the freedom to volunteer whomever I wish, eh? Ha!) Anyway, Jackie is a good writer and will not send a fifty-page tome. She knows her stuff. Also, submit to EVERY TV station a slide or page (I don't remember the format) for their public service announcements. Yes, they mostly run at 3am, but someone at the station may remember them when a story is needed. One other thing: if the media, especially TV does show up, treat them as you would a deity. No smart-aleck remarks about how bright the lights are, etc. Let them do WHAT they want, WHEN they want and HOW they want. PERIOD! And if a club member doesn't like it, quickly walk over to that person and tell them (in no uncertain terms) to SHUT THE HECK UP!!! Another tip which you may have already done. Next to every phone that the public could possibly call, a written page of directions to Powell should be available. Then, any member who answers the phone could just pick that up and read very clear directions to people. Trust me on this one. One more thing...Dick Landingham is still at the original KC Museum Planetarium. Get him some flyers to distribute. There are still school groups that attend the Planetarium, as well as weekend visitors.

4) The more programs you run, the more the community will associate you with education, and not just label you some 'safe but quirky' fringe group that occasionally allows the public access to their toys and is always screaming about something called 'light pollution.' The benefits of this are tremendous. The media will remember you and seek you out. Teachers and educators will use you more as a resource. And have you thought about what the added visibility means in the way of funding? No? Maybe you should. Which possible schedule (and potential visitor number) sounds better to a potential donor: Once a month or weekly? Such a person or organization will also look at club participation. The more people involved, the better.

5) My suggestion is to NOT hook a ccd up to the 30-inch. People want to look thru that scope and are impressed when they do. Anyone can project an image on a monitor...if you feel the need to export an image, hook the ST7 up to a refractor mounted on the 30-inch. Outside of the knowledge contained within the membership, that telescope is your biggest 'selling' point.

6) a. At EVERY public night, make certain there is membership information available for people to take with them. It would be inexcusable not to take advantage of this opportunity to expand your membership. On the back of the information sheet there should be a MAP to the monthly meetings at UMKC. b. Going above and beyond this would be to provide everyone who attends a SIMPLE star chart. Did I mention that it should be simple? People barely know where south is, let alone how to find a 5th magnitude nova in Aquila. The stars should be bright and planets noted. If the Moon is up, use it! It's a good marker. Use terminology like "to the left of the Moon" rather than "east of the Moon." Believe me, people will love you for it. These will not be easy to originate, especially for amateur astronomers. If more than one person works on this, I suggest that at least one be a brand-new ASKC member without Messier certification!

7) Keep your admission fees reasonable.

8) Comfort is crucial. Make sure there are plenty of chairs for people (and not just ASKC members!) who want/need to use them. Also, any chance you can get a soda machine out there? If you do, get one that can accept dollar bills. You won't lose money. I know that the "fridge" is stocked, but you may only have two ASKC members some night and my point is to make the peripheral issues (like soda) as non-labor-intensive as possible.

Well, there are a few of my thoughts. The ASKC is a terrific organization, and the best Astronomy club I've ever been associated with. Keep up the good work! If I were there, you know I'd pitch in! Hope to see you all at Mid-States in June.


Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 15:41:20 -0600
From: Scott Kranz

I should probably have my 2-cents worth also.

I like the idea of having every Saturday night between May and October a public night. I like the idea of having it on Friday nights even better. We've been having public nights at Powell on Saturdays for a long time. Will the Board accept this change?

Assuming the Board passes this (that's a big if), the biggest problem I see is how to staff them every Saturday (or Friday) night. In my experience it takes at least 4 people to staff a public night effectively; one to collect "donations" at the gate, one to give the program, meet, and interact with the public as they come in the classroom, one in the dome at the beginning of the night (the public always filters in to see the "big" scope first off), one to man the binoculars with solar filters before the program begins. After the program, the donation collector can move into the dome to help with the 30-inch. It's usually best to have someone on the ground to help with avoiding hitting things and someone on the top of the ladder to point out the eyepiece and how to look into the eyepiece. When the new dob comes into operation outside, someone will need to be out there to handle that as well.

That will be 26 sessions in the May to October timeframe. Can we do it? I would like to think we can if all keyholders pitch in and help.

What will the program topics be? The same as curently scheduled? Will any of the public be dissappointed if he/she comes out expecting a program on Saturn and then discovers the program is about the Andromeda Galaxy? How many schedules have we published or handed out already? Our lease agreement requires that we give the Lousiburg Board a schedule of planned events prior to the beginning of the observing season. Can this all be accomplished in the next couple months? I hope we can.

Anyone, keyholder or not, interested in this discussion SHOULD attend the February Board Meeting. It will be held February 10. See your Cosmic Messenger for location and time, or contact me. The more people who show up the better. (Do we need to give away door prizes at our Board Meetings for membership to show up???? Come on people, this is YOUR club and YOUR hobby!)

Scott Kranz
President, ASKC

From: "Richard & Kirsten Fredrick"
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 15:56:22 -0600

Hi Larry,

I think that having the observatory open every Saturday night is a great idea, though I have some concerns about how it might impact our "sharing" of Louis Young park. Isn't our schedule of public nights coordinated with other "interests", i.e., those who use the lighted fields in the park?

I also share the concern about public nights taking away time from private star parties and members' use of the observatory.


Richard & Kirsten Fredrick

From: Carroll Iorg
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 22:31:51 -0600


I would assume that we would either have to dramatically increase the number of keyholders or else roughly double the number of dates each team would be required to staff.

It might be a bit confusing to the public, since the 2000 schedule has already been published.

I think these are some of the items that should be discussed as the Board considers this.

Carroll Iorg

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 12:48:57 -0600
From: Melissa Kirk

Let's have our public programs at Powell Observatory on the first and second Fridays of every month from May to October. I don't like the idea of having a public program every weekend at Powell Observatory, as this would cut into time that the observatory could be reserved for members and private star parties. Previously there have been a total of three public nights per month between May and October. The third Friday night of each month has been at Powell Gardens and two Saturday nights have been at Powell Observatory. I believe three public nights per month is enough.

I do have some ideas to improve the quality of our programs. Why don't we have a sign located just past the concession stand on the way to Powell Observatory that says "Turn off headlights. Parking lights only beyond this point." We could have reflective markers on each side of the road indicating the location of the edge of the road. When news crews are scheduled to go to the observatory, the scheduler could ask them if they could keep their lights off. That way we could teach viewers at home that the night sky is best enjoyed with as much darkness as possible.

I'd like to expound on Dave Hudgins' idea for improving presentations. In terms of a/v tools, we could put our presentation slides on the askc web site. Here's how I envision this would work for the classroom at Powell Observatory. Each season, one team would download the applicable slide programs onto the computer in the classroom. The team members giving the presentation would use an LCD projector to project the image on the computer monitor onto the screen. I suggest purchasing a used/refurbished projector, as used projectors are 40-50% of the price of new projectors. On the web site I found a refurbished Proxima 5900 projector priced at $2495. Maybe someone can find an even lower priced projector on Ebay. A less expensive idea is to keep a color printer and an overhead projector in the classroom. Maybe we could get a printer that accepts transparencies, so that we could print slides on the transparencies, and then project the transparencies onto the screen. We could keep the transparencies in a locked cabinet. The transparencies would be easy to reproduce if they get lost or stolen. Existing 35 mm slides could be scanned into a computer and put on our web site.

I like the idea of using Larry's ST7 on the 30" to show what we are looking at in the eyepiece in the monitor in the classroom. I also like Nick's idea about having PBS Science Fridays at Powell Observatory, except I think it should be on the first and second Fridays of each month.

Melissa Kirk