Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia
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.
That said, there are some patterns to when we can be found.
We typically set up telescopes in Pasadena on Colorado Blvd. somewhere between Fair Oaks and Pasadena Ave. on Friday evenings, and 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.
Eta Aquarids peak on May 6. Good year for this shower with 55 per hour at the peak. The peak meaning a mathematical number which takes into effect the number of meteors an observer would see looking straight overhead in a dark sky. Typically a meteor shower peak lasts only a few minutes to a half hour. That number, along with the sky conditions and the observer's visual acuity are used in the calculation called the ZHR, or Zenithal Hourly Rate. It could be that if you see a few meteors in the hour around the peak, with a spike of, say a dozen in the minutes around the peak, that could calculate to that 55 per hour number you read in the media.
Moon and Mars close together but too near the sun for safe viewing May 8.
May 10 – Annular eclipse of the sun visible from Australia. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse May 24-25 will be too slight to observe from North and South America due to the small entry into the penumbral shadow.
Trio of moon/planets May 24-29 fit in a 5 degree circle. Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are all very low to the horizon. Watch them all month long as they form lines and switch places. Saturn is visible all night, rising at dusk.
Last chance for Comet Pan-STARRS. Near the celestial north pole between Ursa Minor and Cepheus, mag. 7.5. Comet Lemmon lingers low in Pisces, mag. 7.9. Check here each week for a list of the brightest comets.
Likely dates for 2013 (subject to change and weather permitting)
Fri eve Old Town Pasadena, Sat eve in Old Town Monrovia
May 11 Mojave National Preserve public star party
May 18 Monrovia
Jun 14 Pasadena
Jun 15 Monrovia
Jun 29 potential dark sky desert observing night
July 6 potential dark sky desert observing night
Jul 12 or 19 Pasadena
Jul 13 or 20 Monrovia
Aug 16 Pasadena
Aug 17 Monrovia
Aug 23 - 24 Glacier Point Yosemite public star party
Old Town Astronomers are members of JPL's Saturn Observation Campaign.
The Sidewalk Astronomers have a grand tradition of setting up telescopes in national parks over the summer. 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 2013 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. Scheduling for 2013 is underway. The number/email to call for RSVP is on the link below. Here's the 2013 spring star party flyer with info and RSVP contact.
Yosemite: One of the "best-kept secret" events at Yosemite National Park during the summer (between July 4 and Labor Day) is the weekend star parties at Glacier Point, high above the Yosemite Valley. The park invites a different astronomy club from Northern California to bring telescopes each non full-moon weekend all summer long. Club members get a free campsite for the weekend, and park visitors get two free star parties, on the Friday and Saturday nights. Mojo and I will be providing telescopes and a talk on August 23 and 24th. You can attend as a park visitor if you'd like on this weekend or another - our star parties are listed in the park visitor guide -- just look for the Glacier Point section all summer long!
For a taste of the Glacier Point star parties, this Yosemite Nature Notes video was filmed during the last three Glacier Point Star parties we attended with the San Jose Astronomical Association.
Grand Canyon Star Party: Every June for a week, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park are able to enjoy beautiful telescope views and astronomy talks at the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Astronomers travel from across the country to set up on both the North and South Rim visitor areas. It'll be held in 2013 from June 8-15, 2013 on both the North and South rims.
- 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.
- Iapetus: East is Least and West is Best
(Updated for 2011!) Jane outlines an observing project for Saturn's strange two-colored moon Iapetus.
- January observing, a Monoceros evening
Brief story from our favorite desert observing location, with pictures and astrophotos.
- A Ten Planet Night
Jane writes an observing report from a desert night that featured ten planets.
- Snakes, Tortoises, and Stars
Story and photo album (with some ultra-cute tortoise video) of our "Herping Star Party" in Mojave National Preserve, April 25, 2009
- 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.
- Song, Telescope Man by Robert Cesarone and Northern Cross
Bob Cesarone of JPL moonlights as an acoustic musician, and wrote this song some years back for his favorite telescope man, John Dobson. This link is direct to the MP3 file.
- Crepuscular Rays at Bryce Astronomy Festival 2007
Jane's article on this fascinating sky phenomenon we saw at Bryce Canyon.
- 2007 Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon Trip
Jane and Mojo travel to the North Rim and Bryce Canyon for a week of astronomy with John Dobson and Barry Peckham
- Sidewalk Astronomers on Weekend America
Weekend America did a story on Jane, Mojo, and John Dobson for International Sidewalk Astronomy Day, May 19, 2007. The web site also features an article by Jane.
- 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!