Gifting the Universe, Part II

Bringing Astronomy to Everyone

Sometimes giving a gift for the holidays, year-end philanthrophy (or just being generous at any time) can serve two purposes: making the giftee happy and contributing to a larger cause that extends your gift out to more people. I’ve got several gift suggestions that do just that and they help bring astronomy to more people!

Give Dark Skies

The International Dark Sky Association supports reduction of light pollution and restoration of dark skies around the world.

For the past year or so I’ve been working closely with the International Dark Sky Association on a short subject film called Losing the Dark. It’s set for release early next year, and will show in planetariums and flat-screen venues. We’ve been members of IDA for some time now, and their message of dark-sky awareness is a good one: simply put, humans are lighting up the sky and wasting money and fossil fuels in the process. Lighting is important, and IDA has a lot of good information on how to more properly light our homes, streets, car lots, and buildings. In addition, the IDA works with local citizens to set up dark-sky preserves, where light pollution is at a minimum and people can enjoy the night sky.

Light pollution abatement isn’t just about enabling astronomy, although dark starry skies are everyone’s legacy and we should protect them. It’s also a matter of health and economics. Light encroachment affects the health of every living thing on the planet in some serious ways.  The IDA has some wonderful materials that discuss those effects.  In addition, as I mentioned above, lighting up the sky costs a serious amount of money that our society and individuals could use in other ways.

So, consider a gift membership in IDA for someone you know might appreciate it (and maybe for yourself, too). IDA is also raising funds for Losing the Dark — some very generous donors have already come through, but there’s room for your help, too.

Give Astronomy Education

One of my favorite organizations in astronomy outreach is the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. For well over a century this world-spanning organization (members come from more than 70 nations) has been enabling science education, particularly in astronomy, in the classroom, in planetariums, in youth groups and for the general public.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific spreads the word of astronomy to people around the world.

I’ve worked with ASP in the past, particularly on a podcast project called Astronomy Behind the Headlines, so I know that the organization comprises a wonderful group of qualified educators and outreach specialists.

ASP’s projects include teacher training, outreach specialist training, park ranger workshops in astronomy, online resources (such as the podcasts I did for them), and much, much more. In fact, I am always impressed with the programs they come up with each year —they’re innovative and useful to anyone who wants to share astronomy.

The ASP also has an annual meeting at which astronomy teachers and outreach folk get together to share methods and talk shop.

At this membership link on the ASP page, you can give a gift membership, buy a membership for yourself, or you can simply donate unrestricted funds to help these guys do their job of bringing science to the forefront of education. They’re well worth checking out and you know your money will get paid forward.

Give Astronomy Outreach

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is a truly stellar astronomy place. Image by Carolyn Collins Petersen, Copyright 2006.

I don’t live in Los Angeles, but I happen to be a very big fan of the Griffith Observatory, one of LA’s most amazing landmarks. It has a support group called “Friends of the Observatory” (FOTO), and I’ve been a member for the past six years because I believe very strongly in the observatory’s astronomy outreach mission.

Not only does Griffith Observatory welcome people from all over Southern California (and from around the world, actually), but FOTO funds a marvelous program that brings students in from the greater LA basin to enjoy a show and learn something about the starry skies. The whole building is a big astronomy lesson, and so their day at Griffith includes a tour of the exhibits. FOTO also enables the production of new planetarium shows and upkeep of exhibits, among other bits of its support mission.

I have a very personal connection to Griffith Observatory. About seven years ago, FOTO contacted me about being part of the Griffith renovation team; specifically, to be the science writer for their exhibition program. I agreed to take it on, and embarked on a most amazing journey. Six years later, the exhibits I wrote are still, as the observatory’s director, Dr. Ed Krupp, once suggested “…charming people and teaching about astronomy.” I’m very proud of that work, and I encourage people to visit Griffith whenever they get a chance, no matter where they’re from. It maybe LA’s observatory, but the lessons it teachers are meant for everybody. So, consider giving a gift membership to FOTO to someone (or yourself). The rewards go far beyond the perks you get for joining (they’re listed on the FOTO membership page). You’ll know that your dollars make a difference in astronomy education for everybody.

These are just three of the many deserving astronomy-related groups out there that you can support with a gift or a donation. I’ll have a few more to talk about later in this series, so keep checking back for more gift and philanthropy ideas in tbe next few days.