Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia
10 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.”
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.
(Old Town Pasadena has been a much less frequent location over the past few years with our work schedule.)
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.
October - Eclipses and near misses Lunar eclipse Oct. 8. The moon enters Earth’s deep shadow for the second lunar eclipse of the year at 2:15 am from the west coast, or 5:15 a.m. on the east coast. The total phase will start at 3:15 a.m. from the west coast and will last about an hour. Two weeks later, on the 23rd, a partial solar eclipse will be visible in the late afternoon. On the East coast, the sun sets before the eclipse reaches its maximum, but observers will see the dramatic partial eclipse as the sun sets. The eclipse is not visible in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. From the west coast, the moon's dark silhouette will cover about half the sun in the late afternoon.
In-between, comet Siding Spring and Mars pass within 81,000 miles of one another on October 19. The comet may or may not be visible in the weeks leading up to the near-miss. NASA's Mars spacecraft will be studying the comet dust (while in protective orbits from the dust itself), and possibly taking images, tho' the diffuse cometary material may not stand out distinctly in images - like taking pictures of a cloud from inside the cloud. All three of these events are covered in detail and with finder maps in Jane's October What's Up video from NASA.
There are many meteor showers in October, too! The Draconids on the 6th-10th - look near the head of Draco, but full moon will obstruct the faint meteors. The Taurids branch into many streams derived by the short 3.3 year period of Comet 2P Encke. Look October 9-10 (and fewer between Sept 7- Nov 19th) for the slow southern Taurids. Also the Northern Taurids Oct 19 - December 10, with a peak November 12/13. And look for swift and bright Orionids appearing near the feet of Gemini/club of Orion on the favorable new moon night of October 21-22.
November Venus returns to the night sky for the first time since January. Saturn sinks as Venus rises. Mars sets three hours after sunset. Neptune and Uranus are both worthy telescopic targets, with Uranus possibly naked eye visible. Jupiter rises before midnight finally. And get up early to catch Mercury in the morning. In November, the Milky Way spans the sky from east to west and we get a peek out the southern window of our galaxy, towards the Great Andromeda and Triangulum Galaxies, along with the Milky Way wonders of fall. (In the spring we see out the other window, peering into the great Virgo supercluster of Galaxies.
With many planets and the moon in the sky, it's a great opportunity to see the ecliptic — the plane of the solar system, drawn across the sky. This is the line where all of the planets, the sun and the moon, are found as we all orbit the sun. October and early November are also the best time to see the Zodiacal Light, illuminated dust grains that circle the sun in the inner solar system. Look for a triangle of light an hour before sunrise on the eastern horizon. Jane explains the how, what, where, when and why of the Zodiacal Light in her September What's Up video from NASA. And speaking of dust grains, the Leonids peak on November 17th, and the crescent moonrise after midnight will be a pretty distraction.
December The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor shower of the year, and December 13 and 14 is on a weekend, convenient to those of us who like to travel to a dark sky for meteor showers. This is the one major shower that provides good activity prior to midnight as the constellation of Gemini is well placed from 10pm onward. The Geminids are often bright and intensely colored. Due to their medium-slow velocity, persistent trains are not usually seen. Their parent is not a comet, but an asteroid -- 3200 Phaethon -- 5 km wide with a 1.52-year orbit, shorter than the orb it of any comet. The rocky asteroid', rather than a dusty comet explains why the Geminids are slow, bright, with few if any persistent trains. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Solar system, Venus is nearly 20 degrees above the sunset horizon, setting an hour after sunset, so look quick! On December 23rd to the 25th, look for the moon between Mars a third of the way to the southwest horizon, and both Venus and Mercury hugging the horizon just minutes after sunset!
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 Fall 2014 Star Party 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 on May 31 was a huge success, with over ten telescopes of the observing platform (filling it to capacity), and 31 cars in the parking lot overnight. Our fall star party will be held November 1, 2014 to coincide with the California Desert Protection Act 20th anniversary. Here's the 2014 spring star party flyer to give you an idea of what to expect.
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.
- "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
Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones
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.
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!