Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia
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.”
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.
December - A Mars Primer for December and 2016, plus December's Geminid and Ursid meteor showers.
Last month early risers watched small, reddish Mars dance with brighter Jupiter and Venus just before sunrise. This month Mars rises earlier - by about 2 a.m. local time. Its reddish color is unmistakable, even without a telescope. It's easy to see below the Moon and Jupiter on December 4. You won't see many features this month, because the planet is almost 10 times smaller than nearby Jupiter appears and 350 times smaller than the Moon appears to us on Earth.
You should be able to see Mars' north polar region this month, because it's currently tilted towards Earth.
You'll be amazed at the changes you'll see during 2016. January through December are all prime Mars observing months. Between January and May next year, Mars triples in apparent diameter as its orbit around the sun brings it closer to Earth.
So put Mars viewing on your calendar for 2016. You might want to try sketching the features you see on the Red Planet, just as early astronomers did. It's easy to see some detail, and ask me if you'd like Mars sketching tips. You can see a couple of my Mars sketches and those of other amateurs in this months video.
Here's December 2015 What's Up video. It's all about Mars in December and beyond.
Geminids are visible from Dec 4-17, 2015 - the peak lasts a full day from UT 1-23 hours December 14 -- or from 5 p.m. on December 13th until 3:00 p.m. on the 14th Pacific Time. This shower has a long plateau of higher rates, not a short high peak like many other showers. The rates during the 23 hour plateau will be from 50 to 100 meteors per hour from a dark sky location. The radiant, or area of the sky the shower appears to radiate from is near the Gemini twin star Castor - the upper of the twin stars Castor and Pollux (Pollux is the brighter of the two). Gemini is visible nearly all night long. The parent of the Geminids is an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon -- it's small -- only 5 km wide -- with a 1 and a half year orbit around the sun. This orbit is shorter than any comet producing meteor showers. You will see Geminids from dusk until dawn, but you'll get a bonus before dawn - reddish Mars rises at about 3a.m. below brighter Jupiter in the eastern sky. Geminid Star Chart.
Ursids are visible from December 17-26, 2015, with a short peak at 02:00 UT December 23 (6 p.m. Pacific on December 22nd) near the bowl of the little dipper, Ursa Minor. This shower has a very short peak - just 9 or 10 meteors per hour during the peak, mostly faint but possibly with a few fireballs. The easier-to-find constellation Ursa Major - the big dipper - won't have completely risen above the horizon at 6 p.m. Pacific, so familiarize yourself with how to find Polaris before hand. The moon will be high in the eastern sky at peak hour, so try to block the moon by sitting near a wall or shielding your Eastern view by tilting a baseball cap bill to to cover the moon. Or just enjoy the full moon, and hope for a bright Ursid. Ursid Star Chart.
Jane's Favorite Things! To celebrate the one hundredth episode of ‘What’s Up’ in October 2015, I wanted to share some of my favorite celestial things. Here's the 100th What's Up video. Hope you enjoy watching it as much as I've had creating the series since 2007.
I'm creating a toolkit with NASA tools and resources to accompany each monthly video. These are for both armchair and amateur astronomers, sky loving students of all ages. Here's a peek at an early iteration of the Star Tool Box.
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!
- "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!