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«CONTRIBUTION OF AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS TO THE CONSERVATION OF SKY QUALITY JUAN JOSÉ MANZANO1, RAFAEL BARRENA1,2, Mª JOSÉ HERNÁNDEZ1 GOAT.- Grupo de ...»

CONTRIBUTION OF AMATEUR

ASTRONOMERS TO THE CONSERVATION

OF SKY QUALITY

JUAN JOSÉ MANZANO1, RAFAEL BARRENA1,2, Mª JOSÉ HERNÁNDEZ1

GOAT.- Grupo de Observadores Astronómicos de Tenerife

IAC - Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias

Introduction

This conference offers a great variety of reasons to observe the sky at night. Of all

these reasons we prefer to choose the simplest one: its spectacular beauty.

The authors of this communication are amateur astronomers, members of the Group of Astronomical Observers of Tenerife (GOAT), who dedicate part of their free time to the contemplation of the landscapes of the universe and, some of them, make valuable scientific contributions with great dedication and effort. All of us are directly implicated in the problem of preserving the quality of the sky and, in this communication, we will briefly detail the activities and projects that, to preserve the possibility of ever being astonished by the cosmos’s landscapes, we can make from our condition of amateur astronomers.

Some famous amateur astronomers The definition of amateur astronomer is very broad and includes a great number of people interested in observing and knowing the firmament. Amateur astronomer could be a person who observes the sky periodically and is interested in the study of its origins, evolution, its relationship with Mankind throughout history and its artistic and/or technical aspects in greater or smaller measure, not being this activity his main source of income.

The difference between professional and amateur is not clear, sometimes someone who at first observed the sky as a hobby later has dedicated to it exclusively. On the Figure 1: Mount Teide, a privileged area for astronomical observation, recently declared a World Heritage Site.

Photograph: Rafael Barrena.

other hand, we have also the examples of those who working for important observatories and universities dedicate their free time to activities like observation or astrophotography.

There are many and varied examples. Hevelius, famous by its engravings of the constellations in the XVII century, studied Law and worked at the familiar business, a brewery in Poland, before devoting himself to astronomy exclusively.

Percival Lowell, who predicted the existence of Pluto, studied mathematics and for a time he worked in the field of diplomacy in different countries until, obsessed with the Martian channels, he founded its own observatory on Arizona in 1894, which continues its activities nowadays.

Heinrich Olbers practiced medicine as a profession between XVIII and XIX centuries, devoting himself to the study of physics, mathematics, the orbital calculation of comets and asteroids, discovering several ones (Ceres, Shovels, Vesta...), postulating the theory of a planetary cataclysm as

–  –  –

teur astronomers who with their observations data contributed to the plans for choosing the best places for moon landing of the vehicles of the North American lunar program, although this selenític interest declined after the cancellation of the program. Today, prestigious amateur associations compile many data about binary stars, comets, asteroids, novas and supernovas that are used by professionals in their own studies.

This brief summary of historical personalities gives us a perspective of the importance of this hobby in the development of astronomical studies.

–  –  –

Contribution of amateur astronomers to the conservation of sky quality Is evident the interest that we have in maintaining and improving the quality of nocturnal sky. But only interest is not enough to stop the progressive deterioration of the quality observations; it is necessary to act. We are now going to enumerate the different ways in which our Group has participated directly or through our members to face the deterioration of this quality, as well as proposals for the future.

Of course, the possibilities of a group of amateurs are limited and its greater potential is as organizers of activities of spreading and awareness. The diversity of occupations of members of an association have effects on the possibility of access to other people who, without being enthusiastic of astronomy, can value the virtues that a sky clean of contamination entails. It is not a question of going out with placards but of attracting and teaching the public so that, interested in the activity that is being made, can perceive the problem of light pollution and, sensitised about it, can be more receptive to activities of protection. Nevertheless a sum of citizen denunciations can contribute a lot to awareness, the adoption of specific measures and also to the application of protective laws against light pollution. In this aspect, specific denunciations by means of writings to the City Council of La Matanza and La Orotava in Tenerife have been made, and has been constituted a specific group to deal about this problem.

It is obvious that the international associations or those with more members have greater weight at the moment of demanding authorities to make laws and programs of protection, especially if they go with official organizations. But smaller associations can also make contributions in different ways. The first one is with the behaviour of its members, giving example of citizenship and protection of the environment, being careful of the observation places wherever they go. Another way is through the organization of specific events used for promotion of astronomy and awareness of the values related to it. Events as the “Celebration of Stars” organized by Cienciamanía in Güimar, in 2006 July, in which the GOAT participated together with the Museum of Science and the Cosmos, Astroamigos and Alpha Cygni in a day of observation in Puertito de Güimar with a great attendance of public.





The “Marathon Messier” also attracted a big number of curious people to participate in the observation of the 110 objects of the famous Messier catalogue during two consecutive weekends in March. Without any budget and by worth of moth publicity this activity allowed all assistants to observe through telescopes of members of the Group, waking up more serious interests in some of this people who later on have become one more of our group.

Another activity in which we also participate is this Conference with an exhibition of astrophotography that, with the title “Canarias, a balcony to the Universe”, can be seen for the first time in this Conference. Later on it will be exhibited in the Assembly Hall of the School of Engineers of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and become tan itinerating exhibit going from the Museum of Science and the Cosmos to many other different cultural places.

We also have collaborated in diverse mass media, from specialized magazines to digital news bulletins that promote local and provincial cultural activities. One of our supporters directs the program “Star Dust” in radio “Onda CIT”, a weekly program of one hour dedicated to astronomy; one of our members take part as collaborator in the sundays radio program in the channel SER “Objective the Moon”, commenting astronomical events and talking about the importance of darkness for star observation.

We cannot forget those astronomers who have turned their hobby in a way of earning their lives, having created a small business to sell equipment and organize excursions where groups are made conscious of the importance of the degradading effects of luminescence in the sky. This is a small sample of the increasing interest that astronomy is arousing in the population, generating enough demand to maintain business with sales and popularising excirsions on a weekly basis. Although this activity can be considered professional, it is the one which makes that more new people find a real interest in astronomy and it is the most interesting one to sensitise about the problem of light pollution.

In addition all and each one of us advertise these activities in our daily lives, to our family, friends and in our workplaces. In this respect the amateur astronomers related to teaching and education can reach greater approaches to the goals of awareness and popularising astronomy. The work in this field is, obviously, very important, being fundamental the accomplishment by young students of activities that attract their interest by means of observation and experimentation.

Between the teachers related to the GOAT, Héctor López is a wonderful example to illustrate these multiple aspects that an amateur can perform.

Apart from making small excursions that include observation, he serves as a reference to other teachers in his Center in questions related to astronomy.

Continuing in this field of activity, one of our members, Federico Fernandez Porredón, now president of the Association for the Teaching of Astronomy (ApEA), a national association of teachers of schools related to this activity. It is remarkable that, in some secondary schools, learning of astronomy has turned from being a sporadic activity to become a subject matter within the curricula of the students.

Internet is, of course, another window to show our activities. By means of its web page (http://www.astrosurf.com/goat/) and forum associated to it the GOAT maintains a permanent contact with local amateurs, as well as with amateurs from all over the world, advertising the wonders of our skies with our photos and commentaries. In addition, by this way of communication hundreds of associations get to be known and promote its activities. We need only enter in a web finder to reach thousands of web pages, many from official organizations, but a lot more from amateurs. organizations and forums that contribute to the spreading of this subject and the contact between people with same interests.

But it is still possible to do more activities in local communities, youthful associations, schools and high schools, programming events to observe and giving lectures that need a little budget, since the necessary equipment for the observation and time are afforded by the amateurs. It is usual that in spectacular events, like for example the past total eclipse of the moon, many curious people meet around the telescope of an amateur who allows them observe the event. That is the most valuable contribution that can be complemented with information that could lead to create new enthusiasts of astronomy or people well aware of the importance of the quality of the sky.



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