Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia

Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.

11 years in Monrovia!

Being a Sidewalk Astronomer isn't really about “joining” anything — it‘s about embracing a philosophy and acting on it.

Ask John Dobson how he became interested in astronomy, and he‘ll answer, “I was born!” People have a natural fascination with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, but to most it‘s something they read about in a magazine or see on television.

We stop people on sidewalks and let them see the craters of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the spots on the Sun. For just a moment, they have a personal connection with the universe around them, and sometimes life seems a little better after that.

We call it “urban guerilla astronomy.”

What's Up home page from JPLWhat's Up home page from JPLUpcoming Events

Many of our sidewalk events are planned only a few hours in advance. We will send a notice to our events email list on an afternoon when we plan to be observing. Join our email list using the link to the left.

That said, there are some patterns to when we can be found, and look at the top of the website for our next astronomy nights.

We typically set up telescopes in Monrovia at Myrtle and Lime on Saturday evenings. For us to set up telescopes, the sky needs to be clear, there needs to be something to see (Moon, Jupiter, or Saturn), and we need to be available that evening.

Weather is always a factor. Our telescopes, big as they are, can not see through clouds. On an evening when we plan to be out observing, we will generally give it a try if there is a better than even chance that we'll get to view the Moon or planets. Occasionally a thin layer of haze will make the sky appear overcast, but the Moon will still show through.

There is never any charge to look through our telescopes.

September-October 2015

September - a lunar eclipse! This month we get an eclipse on the the night of the harvest moon--the full moon closest to the September equinox. "Equinox" is derived from the Latin for "equal night." So day and night on the 27th (28th in more easterly time zones) will be roughly of equal length, and the sun will rise exactly in the east and set exactly in the west. Sometimes a full moon is called a "supermoon"--a term coined just a few years ago. A supermoon is a new or full moon which occurs when the moon is at or near its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit. There are 4 to 6 supermoons every year on average, so they're not unusual. You won't really be able to see the difference between this full moon and any other one with your eyes. It'll only be about 7% larger. The moon is 221,000 miles from Earth this month, as opposed to the average distance of 239,000 miles.

The partial lunar eclipse begins at 9:07 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (6:07 p.m. Pacific). It will last a little more than an hour, and observers can watch as, crater by crater, the moon is engulfed in Earth's shadow. West Coast viewers take note: when the eclipse begins, the moon won't have risen yet for us. The total eclipse begins at 10:11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (7:11 p.m. PDT) and also lasts for more than an hour, ending at 11:23 p.m. (8:23 p.m. PDT) The moon's reddish color you'll see is caused by sunlight refracting through Earth's atmosphere on its way to light the moon's surface. This month the moon skims Earth's shadow, just as it did in the April lunar eclipse. In April the north pole appeared a bit brighter during totality. This time, the southern pole will appear a bit brighter, a bit like a partial eclipse. Then it's the whole show in reverse order, ending at 12:27 a.m. on the East Coast and 9:27 p.m. on the West Coast.

When you're not eclipse watching, catch Mercury, Saturn, Neptune and Pluto in the evening sky, Uranus and Neptune at midnight, and Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the predawn sky. Finally, you can still get a

Here's my September 2015 What's Up Lunar Eclipse video.

October - Jane's Favorite Things! To celebrate the one hundredth episode of ‘What’s Up’, I want to share with you some of my favorite celestial things. Luckily October is a great month to see them all!

Number ten: As the sun sets, watch its color. At sunset and sunrise, sunlight travels a long path through the atmosphere to reach our eyes. The thick atmosphere absorbs most colors of sunlight, but red light is absorbed the least. So we often see a sunset in shades of red. Rarely, green flashes can be seen just above the sun’s edge just as the last sliver of its disk disappears below the horizon.

Number nine: Just after sunset, turn around and face east. You will soon see a dark shadow move up from the horizon and gradually cover the pinkish sky. This is called Earth Shadow, or the Belt of Venus. Earth itself is blocking the sunlight. The lower the sun sinks, the higher the shadow rises in the sky. You’ve probably seen it and just didn’t know what it was.

Number 8: Also just after sunset (or before dawn) you may see rays of sunlight spread like a fan. These are crepuscular rays, formed when sunlight streams through gaps in clouds or mountains. Anti-crepuscular rays look the same but appear opposite the sun.

Number 7: The bright flowing lights of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun. The different colors you can see are due to the type of gas being struck by particles of the solar wind. Yellow-green aurorae are produced by oxygen molecules about 60 miles above Earth; red aurorae are from oxygen 200 miles above Earth, and purple or blue is from nitrogen. You can find out when and where to expect Aurorae at the Space Weather Prediction Center website. We don't get these in LA, but I've seen the Aurora from San Francisco and San Jose!

Number six: The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the few galaxies you can actually see with your naked eye. In October, look nearly overhead after sunset. The galaxy is more than twice the apparent width of the moon – so big that it barely fits in the field of view of a telescope at medium magnification.

Number five: Monday October 19 is Astronomy Night at the White House, and the days around the 19th are excellent nights to view features on the moon such as the Sea of Tranquility and the site of the 1969 Apollo 11 landing.

Number four: This month the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission target, comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is still bright enough for experienced astronomers to pick out in a dark sky. You will definitely need a telescope to see this faint comet. On October 9, you may be able to spot it through a telescope in the east near the crescent moon and Venus.

Number three: There are Meteor Showers galore this month – The faint, slow moving Draconids on the 9th, the slow, super-bright Taurids on the 10th, and the swift and bright Orionids from the dust of Comet Halley on the 21st.

Number two: On October 28th, you’ll find a tight pairing of Jupiter, Venus and Mars in the Eastern sky before sunrise.

Number one: I’ll end this list with my very favorite astronomical sight -- the Zodiacal Light. It’s a faint triangular glow seen from dark skies after sunset or before sunrise. What we’re seeing is sunlight reflecting off dust grains that circle the sun in the inner solar system! These dust grains travel the same pathway -- called the ecliptic -- as the moon and planets as they journey across our sky. If you are lucky enough to see the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “false dawn” this month, the three planets Jupiter, Venus and Mars will be just above it!

I'm creating a toolkit with NASA tools and resources for armchair astronomy, solar system and deep sky observing in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!!!!!

Observing under a clear dark sky at Amboy, CAObserving under a clear dark sky at Amboy, CADark Sky Star Parties

The Sidewalk Astronomers have a grand tradition of setting up telescopes in national parks throughout the year. For many urban dwellers, an excursion to a national park is the only opportunity to see the Milky Way for themselves. A sky full of stars can be staggering to someone who lives under the L.A. light dome.

We love to get away from the city lights, and love to invite park visitors to spend a little quality night time under a star-filled sky with our telescopes. Jane and I love to set up our big telescopes in Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP (north and south rims), and Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

Mojave National Preserve Spring and Fall 2015 Star Parties This is one of the darkest locations in the country, and it's the closest darkest location for those of us in southern California. The preserve invites their conservancy members and friends to camp under the stars at Black Canyon Group Campsite twice a year. Our spring star party will be on June 13. Our fall star party will be held October 17, 2015. Here's the 2014 fall star party flyer to give you an idea of what to expect. When it's updated, I'll post a link, but directions, what to expect will be the same.

For a taste of what it's like at a dark sky star party, this Yosemite Nature Notes video was filmed during three Glacier Point Star parties Jane, Mojo and Gary attended with the San Jose Astronomical Association. Our annual Glacier Point Yosemite Star Party dates are August 21-22, 2015, not a good dark sky night with a first quarter moon, but our club enters a lottery with a dozen others and we can't all get new moon weekends every year. There are different astronomy clubs presenting free star parties at Glacier Point each weekend from July 4 through Labor Day (full moon weekends excepting), so if you are planning a Yosemite trip save a weekend night for Glacier Point!

Feature Articles

"Take Two" on KPCC features Sidewalk Astronomers

"Mojave Desert star parties unite space lovers together under the stars" story by Caitlin Esch, features great quotes from Jane and Mojo at the Mojave National Preserve dark sky party.

Spring dark sky star party featured in the La Canada Valley Sun

Our Spring 2013 dark sky party at Mojave National Preserve attracted record attendance and spawned this great article in the La Canada Valley Sun by Tiffany Kelly

Yosemite Nature Notes - Night Skies

Gorgeous video featuring jaw-dropping time-lapse photography of the night sky from Yosemite National Park. Jane and Mojo from the Sidewalk Astronomers are featured prominently.

Photos from International Observe the Moon Night, Oct. 8, 2011

Stephen Coleman joined us to observe the moon on International Observe the Moon Night and captured some great natural-light images of astronomers and accidental astronomers.

NASA Video on Star Parties for IYA 2009

This three-minute NASA video produced for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 features astronomers from the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers at our observing site in Monrovia.

Photos from International Sidewalk Astronomy Day

A short album of photos from Myrtle and Lime in Monrovia, May 19, 2007

Our Sidewalk Flier — in PDF format

This is the flier we have at our telescopes for visitors.

Building a Dobsonian Telescope

Complete plans from Ray Cash and the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers

More feature articles...

Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones

Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Meet our fellow astronomers here

Jane and Mojo have been setting up telescopes on sidewalks ranging from Hawaii to Florida since 1990. As amateur astronomers, they've participated in meteor observing missions for NASA, and appeared on national TV and radio programs.

Jane and Mojo kept the Sidewalk Astronomers active in San Francisco, the birthplace of the worldwide Sidewalk Astronomers, until relocating to Southern California in late 2003. They immediately saw the potential of Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia as the perfect location for sidewalk astronomy, and bought a home there in January 2004.

Among their list of awards and accomplishments, minor planet 1992LE was designated 22338 Janemojo in their honor.

Jane works for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena managing public outreach and informal education for the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan.

Mojo is a software engineer at Fox Audience Network, and operates his own internet server for friends and family as a hobby.

Telescopes for Schools and Educational Functions

Drop us an email if you would like to have the Old Town Astronomers bring telescopes to your school or civic event. Contact us to discuss dates that are best for informal astronomy in the city. As a guideline, dates near the first-quarter Moon are the best early-evening astronomy. Don't forget to consider the time for sunset!