Nasa's Night Sky Network helps amateur astronomy grow

Screenshot source: Nasa/JPL-Caltech

Standing alone in an open field beneath a starry sky can be an awe-inspiring experience. But amateur astronomy can be a lonely hobby when few of your friends and family share your interest. Joining an astronomy club lets you become part of a community that shares your enthusiasm for the wonders unveiled by a telescope.

Nasa makes finding local astronomy clubs and events easier through its Night Sky Network. The site serves as a hub for more than 400 American amateur astronomy clubs, connecting amateurs with local organizations and providing clubs with outreach and recruiting tools they can’t develop on their own. 

Surveys conducted by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) found that astronomy clubs want to improve their outreach activities to raise awareness of astronomy and to recruit new members. Unfortunately many of the clubs lacked the right combination of time, money, and skills to develop programs from scratch. The ASP and Nasa created the Night Sky Network to address that gap.

More than 400 astronomy clubs in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are members of Nasa's Night Sky Network. Screenshot source: Nasa/JPL-Caltech

The service’s first priority is to help amateurs find local astronomy clubs. The Nasa-hosted website features more prominently on google searches than a small hometown organization’s site. The mobile-friendly search page lists clubs and events near you, providing contact information and links to each club’s website.

The Night Sky Network also makes it easier for individual astronomers and clubs to plan observing sessions. The Night Sky Planner displays Information on sunset and sunrise, phases of the Moon, and weather conditions tailored to the visitor’s location. A monthly Youtube video highlights the objects stargazers can see in the night sky. Links to other sites provide viewing conditions, star charts, and forecasts of the International Space Station’s orbit.

The most valuable resource for astronomy clubs is the database of outreach resources. Developing outreach activities - especially educational outreach - requires a combination of subject-matter knowledge and public speaking experience. Relatively few amateur astronomers have both. The Night Sky Network’s Outreach Resources have already proven successful. Many of the resources come with videos, scripts, or other training materials to show clubs how they can use the materials to explain the search for exoplanets, the nature of black holes, and more.

Screenshot source: Nasa/JPL-Caltech