Sidewalk Astronomy Officer


  • Planning, organizing and executing ~1 sidewalk astronomy event per month.
  • Approximate time commitment is 10 hours / semester.


The goal of the Harlem Sidewalk Astronomy project is to bring astronomers and telescope views to Columbia's neighbors once a month. The tried-and-true location, the northeast corner of 125th St & Powell Blvd (right by the statue of Powell), has a lot of foot traffic, and a decent southern horizon (for the most part clear down to ~20 degrees altitude).

Before the first outreach meeting of the semester, choose the potential sidewalk dates. In our current successful arrangement, each month we set aside a block of two consecutive evenings when the Moon and/or a bright planet will be visible. Steer clear of nights that conflict with other outreach events (especially Friday lectures). Find about five volunteers to commit to each block of nights. Plan to use whichever of the two nights is clear first, if any. Since about 40% of nights in NYC are usable for stargazing, there's a good chance of getting one night per month.

It's important to keep in close contact with the volunteers, because schedule conflicts develop rapidly. Confirm several days before the event who is still on board, and get replacements if necessary. We have done sidewalk astronomy successfully with as few as two people (and one telescope), but having more volunteers increases our visibility and the amount of attention science-hungry passersby can get for their questions. Make the go/no-go decision in the afternoon before stargazing based on the weather forecast, and announce to the group (the sooner the better, though that is not always easy given the notorious difficulty of predicting cloud coverage).

Know your Solar System facts!

If you're "go", instruct the volunteers to convene on the roof a half-hour before the planned stargazing start time. Gather telescopes and eyepieces. Have someone make 100 photocopies of the public outreach schedule to hand out. If you have enough people, get the "Astronomy Event" sign and PVC pipe frame from the transit room. With the materials split up, get on the Queens-bound M60 bus at the stop on Broadway just below 120th St. After 15 min you'll arrive at a convenient bus stop on 125th St just East of Powell Blvd.

Set up the telescopes by the statue of Adam Clayton Powell. Divide up the group so half are inviting passersby on the sidewalk, while the other half are operating the telescopes. One person should offer a flyer to everyone who stops to look, while another person counts the participants. We aim to stargaze for two hours. The southbound M60 bus stops on 125th just west of Powell Blvd.