Universe in the Park is a NSF-supported outreach program led by Prof. Eric Wilcots at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. During my time at UW-Madison and later at UW-Milwaukee I was and still am actively contributing this program by running, often with another grad student, more than a dozen of these events.
A typical Universe in the Park session starts with a presentation of about 30 minutes about a current or general interest topic in astronomy. In my case I usually start my presentations with a short overview about the distances encountered in the universe, how they relate to distances we deal with in our daily lives. I also explain what commonly used terms such as light year or parsec are and why astronomers often use seemingly strange units. My presentation then gives an overview over the lifes of stars, how they form, evolve and die, and then goes on to galaxies, concluding in an overview over the universe as a whole. Whenever possible I use images or videos to illustrate the content, keep the often very young audience involved and interested, and generally make the presentation more show- than lecture-like. Questions are of course welcome at any time.
The highlight of each UitP session is the stargazing following the presentation. Although not possible in all cases, we try to setup the telescope before we start the presentation to ensure a smooth transition between the two parts. Common targets are planets, star pairs or clusters and some brighter nebulae. Jupiter with its cloud bands and even more Saturn with its majestic rings never fail to produce some aaaahs and wows. Our moon as earth’s closest companion is another spectacular target with its wealth of craters of all sizes and shapes, and with the telescope guiding switched off we have the impression of flying over its surface at break-neck speeds.
UitP session are usually from around Memorial Day (early Mai) until around Labor Day (end of september or early october). For a current schedule and more information on the program check out the Universe in the Park website.
For several Universe in the Park sessions I set-up my digital camera to create time-lapse movies of the activities as well as the often spectacularly dark nightsky. The movies can be found on my movies page. I also took more pictures, both of the scenery in and around the state parks and the night-sky. These pictures can be found in my photo gallery.