Seeing Stars on the Waterfront

pop-scope-1

“Wow, what a beautiful view!”

That’s often what visitors say when they first come (and then come back) to Boston Children’s Museum. Our location along Fort Point Channel is truly a spectacular sight that greets visitors throughout the day.

But did you also know that the view is just as stunning at night?

As the STEM Specialist, the key part of my job is to develop science, technology, engineering, and math activities for children of all ages (and their grown-ups!) using the materials and exhibits the Museum already has to offer. As an educator and a learner I also enjoy collaboration and bringing people from different communities together. In my work, I constantly strive to unite these two interests. When I learned about #popscope, the stars really aligned.

#popscope – short for pop-up telescope – is a public astronomy group that brings telescopes to urban areas for free stargazing events in an effort to promote access to and interest in astronomy. Led by a passionate team of volunteers, #popscope operates in cities across North America, including Ottawa, New York, Baltimore, and now Boston after Michael O’Shea relocated from Chicago.

pop-scope-2Boston Children’s Museum connected with #popscope over the summer, and Michael visited us during one of our Wednesday “Science on the Boardwalk” sessions. He brought with him a special solar telescope so visitors could look at the sun, its spots, and its flares, without hurting their eyes.

Since then, #popscope has returned several times. Now that kids are back in school during the day, we’ve offered stargazing events on Friday nights. Each and every Friday night, the Museum stays open until 9 pm, and thanks to Target, after 5 pm admission for every visitor is just $1. This is a great opportunity for visitors who work during the week and/or are looking for a deal on price to come explore and play in the Museum.

Friday nights are also a great time to connect with other programs, like the Our City Block Party. Held on the second Friday of each month, the Our City Block Party allows visitors to celebrate and learn about community. In November, we connected that program with #popscope to talk about the stars around us, storytelling, and seeing ourselves as stars in our communities.

pop-scope-3During the Friday nights that #popscope was out on the boardwalk, visitors spotted Venus, Mars, and the Moon (at different phases), and learned about the inner workings of a telescope. For many visitors, it was the first time they’d ever looked through a telescope before! This meant explaining that these telescopes had a special rule: we look only with our eyes, not our hands. This is a hard lesson for our younger folks, but an important one because moving the telescopes causes them to lose focus and moves them away from the star, planet, or moon we want to look at.

Our sessions with #popscope also highlight how important it is to make astronomy accessible and keep fueling our childhood interests. So many of the kids who came to see us and the telescopes told stories of reading books about space in school, playing with space magnets on their refrigerator, or how their favorite planet was Mars (because it was red) and how excited they were to finally see it. Grown-ups, too, reflected on their memories of stargazing with their families and their childhood interests in astronomy, which often fell to the wayside as they grew up, and how they’re eager to offer those opportunities to their children.

In the New Year, we’re planning to have #popscope return to the boardwalk and bring more and more people together to explore the stars, so check our calendar to find out when they’ll be back! In the meantime, here are some easy things you can do at home:

  • Sky Map App – a free (!) app available on iPhone/Android that transforms your device into a map of the sky, so you can easily locate the stars and planets around you and stargaze at home.
  • Beyond the Chalkboard-NASA, developed by Boston Children’s Museum and NASA staff, offers earth and space science activities and resources for afterschool teachers and students.
  • Check out #popscope’s website and Facebook page to learn more about upcoming events
  • StarTalk airs Mondays on National Geographic and features the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewing scientists, celebrities, and comedians about cosmic topics and their relationship to astronomy. It’s great for adults and older kids!

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