Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Is my observation right?

Recently I ran and organised a couple of science communication events for students, community members and academics. At each of those events I had a telescope for either a cool photo op with a politician during science week, or a solar filter on it for observing the sun for a university open day. It was on for young and old!

There are 2 places you can look in a telescope, this is not the right place!
Hundreds of people walked past my telescope to see what was going on, and while the telescope was unattended, 9 out of 10 people looked down the barrel of the telescope, not in the very obvious eyepiece. At first I was annoyed. "Why don't these people know how to look through a telescope?" But then I got a bit sad. These people do not know how to look through a telescope. They've never directly observed the sun and seen a sunspot. They've never seen the moons craters, they've never interacted with the universe they live in this way.

By the way, I still love that moment when you show someone Saturn through a telescope and they firstly say a big" WOW!" then try to look in the mirror to find the sticker of Saturn I put there!

I don't mind if most people don't know what the suns life cycle is, or how the colour and temperature of stars are linked, or if anyone has seen, heard of or understands the H-R diagram or stellar spectra, that's ok. but I do think we should all know at least, which part of a telescope to look through. Sure it might not be obvious at first. But it should be known.

The H-R Diagram.
It tells us about a stars life cycle
While my telescope was being stored ready for its science week appearance with a politician, it had not moved its orientation, even though I know it had been used for a number of photo opportunities during the week. This indicated to me that people were so afraid of moving it and breaking it, that they didn't. Again, a huge lack in their knowledge of how a telescope works! Further, I have a great photo of a federal politician looking through the telescope in the daytime, indoors, pointing up at the roof, with the lens cap on, and using his closed eye! I would love the opportunity to go to Parliament and give a quick tutorial on how to use a simple amateur telescope.

If I present someone with microscope, I'm pretty sure they're not going to try and look up the lens the wrong way. So why did 9 out of 10 people look through the wrong part of a telescope? The answer is I think simple...No one has shown them. A major part of Science is observations, and if we can't get that right, or we have never been shown how to use simple instruments to help us with these observations, then we really need to try harder at science education.

While I was teacher I would often get the question during a student experiment, "Is my observation right?" A fascinating question! My answer was always, "It's your observation, you observed it, record what you saw." It seems as though our observation skills are very poor, and our understanding of equipment to assist in our observations is also poor.

I'm not blaming people for not knowing, but I am inspired to do more science education because of it. It has renewed my enthusiasm to share my passion for science. If I can be the one that shows as many people as possible how to use a telescope, and to not be afraid of it, and actually excited about it, then that'll make me happy! And if you don't know how to use a telescope, please ask me, I'd love to show you!

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