From the November 2011 issue

A foundation for the stars

January 2012: The Astronomy Foundation brings the cosmos to the masses.
By | Published: November 28, 2011
Glenn Chaple
It’s no secret that the ranks of individuals actively involved in amateur astronomy have been dwindling. We can blame a number of contributing factors, including the current economic downturn, a paucity of science education in our schools, competition with computer and video games, and the spread of light pollution.

In past years, the astronomical community has done its best to fight this problem. Locally, astronomy clubs have held star parties at public gatherings and at neighborhood schools. On a national scale, outreach efforts have been supported by organizations such as the AstronomyOutreach Network, which presents annual outreach awards (the “Astro Oscars”) to groups and individuals who make outstanding contributions to astronomy outreach; the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Project ASTRO, a program that augments astronomy and physical science instruction in schools by partnering professional and amateur astronomers with educators; and Astronomy magazine’s annual Out-of-this-world Award, which financially supports various groups’ sustained efforts to involve their local communities in the science and hobby of astronomy.

Astronomy outreach achieved global status in January 2009 when the International Astronomical Union launched the International Year of Astronomy. This coincided with the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s pioneering exploits with the telescope. The goal of this quadricentennial celebration was to introduce people around the world to the wonders of the night sky.

Later that year, telescope manufacturers Joe Lupica from Celestron, Vic Maris of Stellarvue, and Brian Deis from Vixen met informally to discuss how an industry group could come together to promote amateur astronomy. More industry representatives joined in, and a movement began. The Astronomy Outreach Foundation (now known simply as the Astronomy Foundation [AF]) was born.

The Astronomy Foundation’s primary purpose is to introduce new people to the wonders of the universe around them and show them how easy it is to get into astronomy as an activity. One way the nonprofit organization does this is through sidewalk observing events in cities throughout the world. Astronomy Foundation
On April 17, 2011, at the Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, New York, the AF held its annual meeting. The group established the current slate of officers, along with a board of directors and teams of action committees. Astronomy is well represented. Editor David J. Eicher became the foundation’s second president. He and Contributing Editor Mike Reynolds are on the AF Board of Directors. Yours truly has agreed to chair the AF’s Observing Committee.
The major goals of the AF are to introduce new people to the universe around them and show them how easy it is to get into astronomy as an activity. To achieve this mission, the organization promotes sidewalk astronomy in major cities throughout the world, creates videos that ease people into astronomy, coordinates outreach efforts of astronomy clubs and organizations, assists with astronomy education in schools, and spreads interest in astronomy through social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Astronomy magazine is firmly committed to the Astronomy Foundation. Through its Discover the Universe program, the magazine has supported urban star parties in five countries covering three continents as of October 2011. Astronomy helps publicize future events of this type with its networks and through local media. The magazine staff also sends event organizers a Star Party Action Kit, consisting of brochures, magazines, and premium booklets that explain the exciting world of astronomy to newcomers. Astronomy magazine Associate Editor Bill Andrews is the contact person for this outreach program. Interested clubs or individuals should contact Bill at For more information on Astronomy’s Discover the Universe program, see

I urge everyone who cares about the future of amateur astronomy to get involved with the Astronomy Foundation. To learn more about its efforts, visit the AF website at and the foundation’s area on the Astronomy magazine website at
And now a few words for those of you who are on the receiving end of astronomy outreach. I hope this article has convinced you that there are plenty of astronomy enthusiasts eager to help you get started in the hobby. Make an effort to attend a local star party or a meeting of an astronomy club near you (you’ll find a listing of upcoming events and groups under the “Community” heading on Bring friends and family members — the more, the merrier! Who knows? In time, you may find yourself among the ranks of active amateur astronomers conducting outreach programs to introduce backyard astronomy to yet another generation of enthusiasts.

Questions, comments, or suggestions? Email me at Next month: surviving deep-freeze astronomy. Clear skies!