Astronomy Is Where You Find It
I'm sure you know that you can find astronomy books in your local library (Dewey Decimal #520 as I learned at age 10). And you probably know where to look on magazine racks for Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazine. Yes, the History Channel and the Science Channel frequently feature shows about astronomy topics and even PBS can take a glance to the sky on occasion. So you know the usual suspects when it comes to getting a taste (or a whole meal) of astronomy.
But sometimes astronomy comes at you from odd angles. Two things recently caught me by surprise. First, the cover of my "Geico Direct" quarterly magazine for Fall 2007 showed two boys enjoying Adler Planetarium. Yes, Geico the insurance company has a magazine. (The fact that a discount insurer has a free magazine is a surprise itself.) The cover story is titled "StarGazing" and includes 4 well written pages of recommendations for various places people can go to enjoy astronomy, information on where to find local clubs and events, some basic links and a very nice section on star parties. It even includes a concise star party etiquette sidebar. It's really nice that Geico chose to invest 4 pages (out of 34 total) plus the cover page to astronomy. Bravo.
The other surprise is the section for astronomy on the AccuWeather website (http://www.accuweather.com). AccuWeather is one of my favorite planning resources and a while back I noticed the astronomy section (under Interests on the main menu). It's been evolving and still has a little progress to make to be really valuable. Of course AccuWeather is competing for astronomers' attention with the powerful Clear Sky Clock (http://cleardarksky.com) website. The AccuWeather site is more about feature mini-articles and notes and less about conditions. They have astronomy videos, an interesting collection of astronomy widgets (for Vista), a StarryNight's-based interactive star chart, and a blog. The blog mistress, Lisa Beightol, is enthusiastic and well intentioned despite her lack of astronomy experience (eg, she greets readers as "astro-nuts"). Her topics are nicely varied and an easy read for the attention span of the web generation. The site also includes articles from Penn State's astronomy and astrophysics department. It's a noble effort by AccuWeather to give astronomers a little more than just the basic weather statistics and forecast.
These are a couple of examples of organizations that have gone well beyond their primary mission to expose people to astronomy and to support the hobby. The LakeSky Star Award, by acknowledging contributions to the hobby and science will not only recognize, but may well serve to support our chartered mission "to promote the interest and participation in astronomy".Published in the February 2008 issue of the NightTimes