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Armchair Astronomy: Explore the Cosmos at the Library

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This program has been a long time in the coming. But I’m struggling to write about it because it is so simple, I hardly think of it as a program idea. What is “armchair astronomy”, you ask? Think of it as astronomy storytime. I took a bunch of images from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD for short), projected them on the big screen, and read the captions aloud. My first trial run of this program was on Saturday, and I had more than 40 people from oohing and aahing for nearly an hour. The best part is, it might be the easiest (and cheapest) programs I have ever put together.

The Source

APOD is arguably one of the most successful, long-running astronomy communication projects on the web. Founded in 1995 by two professional astronomers Robert Nemiroff of Michigan Technical University and Jerry Bonnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, APOD invites average joe’s like you and me to “Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.” Today, the APOD archive contains the largest collection of annotated astronomical images on the internet. I’ve had a daily APOD habit for a long time. At first, I looked more than I read. The images are breathtaking. It’s often hard to take your eyes off them long enough to notice that words beneath. But it’s the words that connect the wonder your eyes take in with the understanding your curious brain needs. The captions describe–in brief, accessible detail–what the images show. And they are every bit as beautiful as the images. Take this one posted on January 10, 2014:

The description begins, "A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying."

The description begins, “A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying.”

I’ve been “collecting” my favorite first lines from novels since I was 12, and this caption rivals everything in my top 100. And this is just one of thousands of APOD entries. Every single one of these images (whether the image is beautiful or not) is supported by a small, yet profound grain of scientific knowledge. It’s amazing how digestible esoteric subjects like astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics are when served in bite-sized pieces. And that’s what makes APOD an incredible tool for learning. That is what made me realize this program would work. In storytime, we guide young children through stories made up of both images and words that when delivered simultaneously, lead them to greater understanding of new ideas and experiences. I began to think I could apply the storytime model to astronomy, and create an engaging learning experience for people of all ages in my library.

The Program

This program is ridiculously simple. In fact, I’d say it falls firmly in the Unprogramming Model developed my one of my favorite librarian duos:   and Amy Koester. I projected an assortment of my favorite images onto a big screen, and read the informative captions aloud. Here is the slideshow: 

Each one of the images used can be found in the APOD archive by searching by the date that appears on the slide. Following the presentation, I showed two of my favorite down-to-earth science lectures ever: 

and

Finally, I collected a ton of materials: books and DVDs from all three departments, and put them on display. I made best-of lists in our patron-side catalog (yay bibliocommons).

That’s All Folks!

It really doesn’t get much more simple than that. At the end, we had a quick Q&A. The primary question on everyone’s mind was, “when are you doing this again?” And isn’t that what every librarian wants to hear? What’s more I have a group of 10 patrons ranging from age 7-41 who want to start a Citizen Science club so that we can participate in Zooniverse projects as a group at the library. I am really very excited about this idea. I’m going to put a workshop on the calendar for the fall.  I wish I could start this right away, but we plan programs really far in advance. Sadly, it’s too late to start something in the summer. So even if you know nothing about astronomy, give “Armchair Astronomy” a try.  It’s a great way to explore the universe at the library. I am thinking of turning this into a series. After all, I have a huge number of images I cut from this presentation. I could easily do this as a monthly drop-in program. So give it a try, my little starlings! It’s #Easypeasylemonsqueezy.

One thought on “Armchair Astronomy: Explore the Cosmos at the Library

  1. Pingback: Things On The Internet, they are really cool | Storytime Underground

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