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.

July-August 2015

July - the Milky Way and dwarf planets! Many parks have astronomy programs at night and the dark conditions necessary to show off the summer skies. In the south you'll see the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius separated by the core of our Milky Way galaxy. The brightest stars in Sagittarius look just like a teapot, complete with a nearby group of stars resembling a teaspoon. The center of our galaxy looks like hot steam spewing from the teapot's spout. Even with a pair of binoculars, you'll find Milky Way star clusters and knots of nebulae. Just aim at the brighter, clumpy areas.

Also near Sagittarius this month is Pluto! That little teaspoon star shape near the teapot is where amateur astronomers can look for Pluto all month long. You’ll need a medium-sized telescope and some experience, patience and a little weather luck to see Pluto but do look in the direction of the dwarf planet and imagine NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft approaching and successfully flying by it on July 14th. Another dwarf planet, Ceres, is at opposition I always think you need to explain opposition if you're going to mention it this month – not too far away from Pluto in the southern sky between Sagittarius and Capricornus. That’s where NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft is orbiting right now! Here's the July 2015 What's Up Milky Way video.

August - Perseids and see all the planets in one night! August’s Perseids peak on a night with no moon, so get yourself to a dark location and enjoy up to 100 meteors per hour during the peak! The night of August 12th, morning of August 13 is the official peak, when up to 100 meteors will be visible per hour. Luckily Earth passes through the very broad stream of cometary dust from comet Swift–Tuttle every year, and the meteors are visible from late July through August 24th. This means the weekends before and after the mod-week peak will be great observing opportunities. And the location of the radiant – or the area where the meteors appear to radiate from- couldn’t be easier for the novice to locate, even from light polluted skies.

There’s also a chance this month to try and spot all 8 planets, plus former planets Pluto, Ceres and Vesta all in one night – from dusk to dawn – this month, too. You’ll need to start right after sunset and spot Jupiter low on the horizon after sunset. Venus and Mercury can be spotted below Jupiter, but you’ll need binoculars and good western horizons to spot them. Next up on the planetary timescale, Saturn will be easy to see until after midnight. You’ll need a telescope to track down Pluto, but it’s not really that difficult. It’s fun to observe Pluto over two nights and see the movement against the background stars, just as Clyde Tombaugh did in 1930.

Fellow dwarf Planet Ceres is not too far away from Pluto this month. Neptune and Uranus require a wake up call in the morning – one is visible easier in binoculars, the other in a telescope. That leaves Mars, which is visible just an hour before sunrise, and it will require binoculars. But Mars observers, you’ll have plenty of time between now until the end of 2016 to view Mars as it rises earlier and looms larger in the eyepiece, and appears reddish to the unaided eye. And here's Jane's August 2105 What's Up Podcast – Perseids and a parade of planets (will post August 1).

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!