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Going for gold

What Hollywood can teach us about putting on a spectacular show for budding amateur astronomers.

As we reach Oscar time — late February or early March — the lessons of Hollywood come to mind. We did a big article on this some 20 years ago and felt honored to get praise from famed comet hunter David Levy and others. So let’s go there again, with some new suggestions.

The idea is simple. Most backyard astronomers excitedly show their favorite celestial wonders to family, friends or even visiting school groups. It’s memorable for everyone, and it promotes astronomy. Our issue: Can you improve your telescope “show” so that your visitors are even more turned on to science? If so, it could change young minds and perhaps launch a lifelong hobby, or even a career choice. School kids don’t get telescope tours very often. This might be the only occasion of their childhood. Make it count!

I’ll be blunt: Most backyard astronomers offer only an OK presentation. The biggest mistake is showing their favorite objects first, then turning to ever-fainter targets and not wrapping it up until the crowd gets restless. The astronomer might wave goodbye saying, “Let’s do this again sometime!” But for most of the kids, it’s now, “Been there, done that."

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