The University of Illinois Springfield's long-standing Star Parties have gone online, for now, to accommodate safe social distancing of participants. UIS Associate Professor of Astronomy and Physics John Martin hosted the first virtual Star Party on May 30.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We could have had from three to 300 participants,” Martin said. “We did not have 300, but it went really well. Those who showed up were interested and captivated.”
UIS Information Technology Associate Jeff Suddeth logged on to the virtual Star Party to make sure all technology was working properly. His children logged on to participate in the fun.
“The iPad app that Dr. Martin used was really fun because you could see what was happening in the sky right now,” said Suddeth’s son, Weston, age 11. The free app is called GoSkyWatch.
Suddeth said his youngest child was equally captivated by the constellations and how they could create pictures in the sky.
“I encouraged people to be outside,” Martin said. “We started with a tour of the night sky just before sunset. I told them that if they looked west, they could see planets and the Big Dipper. We looked at the moon and were able to identify where the first moon landing happened.”
The virtual Star Party happened the same day SpaceX launched. “We had a visible pass of the International Space Station where the Dragon capsule was six to ten minutes behind it,” Martin said.
The next UIS Star Party also will be hosted virtually on June 27. Viewing information can be found on the star party website.
“We are taking it a month at a time,” Martin said. “We like to do the live ones; they are a ton of fun with more than a few telescopes. The Sangamon Astronomical Society comes out with their telescopes. But in the meantime, we wanted to do something to sustain the interest.”
Martin said he will be working with Lincoln Memorial Gardens, with advice from health professionals, to assess transitioning back to live Star Parties later in the summer.