Pandemic Impact on Amateur Astronomy
By Don Selle – Guidestar Editor
By this stage in the Covid pandemic, no one would argue that we have all changed what we do and how we do it. The question that is being asked now, is what changes will stick and become the new normal?
For HAS this question becomes, what will amateur astronomy look like going forward? Will we adapt and grow, and foster new and younger members or will we suffer because of the pandemic. These are certainly not life and death issues for us as individuals, but an organization like HAS must change with the times in order to stay relevant to our members.
So what are HAS members doing during the doing differently now that may carry beyond the pandemic? Results of a recent nationwide poll I heard indicate that 35% of Americans have taken up a new hobby. Whether due to changes in how (or if) we are working, for many of us the lack of a commute means we have more free time than before. It makes sense that we would use it on astronomy.
The pole only confirmed what we already knew. You are joining HAS at a record rate! Fortunately, HAS leadership had been discussing and trying out new ways to engage our members, especially those just joining, so it did not take us too long to adapt. Rene Gedaly and the Membership Committee have increased our engagement with new members. We have also made several changes to make it easier for new members to become active members.
You are attending HAS meetings virtually. Like the rest of the country, we have been doing more remotely. Prior to the pandemic, HAS had invested in a paid Zoom account, and the equipment necessary to live stream our face to face meetings. We didn’t quite get there before the shutdown forced us to get it done!
In addition to Zoom meetings, you are participating in HAS groups online like the New Member Orientation and the Beyond Polaris Study Group both hosted by HAS President Joe Khalaf. Our HAS Facebook Group and email list server have also seen a significant increase in traffic as members find a way to socialize online. In addition, both are good forums to get help or your questions answered.
You are also learning astronomy. You are taking online astronomy courses. One of our newer members told me that he has completed four astronomy and physics online courses since March! And you are attending virtual observing sessions hosted by various groups including the McDonald Observatory.
You have been observing. All of the recent excitement generated by comet NEOWISE is a great example. You are also focusing on planetary observations with Jupiter and Saturn well placed for evening viewing and Mars soon coming to opposition, there are great opportunities to visually observe or image right from your own backyard.
Whether because of stimulus checks, lower monthly expenses due to working at home, or both, you are purchasing more astronomy equipment. I checked with Land Sea and Sky, our home town astronomy retailer, and they let me know they are much busier than normal, and that many of their suppliers have been struggling to meet the increased demand.
Besides telescopes and accessories, you are also purchasing imaging equipment some of which can be used at home. Many newer members are posting their astro images on the HAS Facebook group and on the email list server. The activity is great to see!
You have also been using our dark site in Columbus. Astronomy is an outdoor activity, and with 18 acres it is easy to social distance. If your schedule allows, it’s a great place to get away from your home routine, get out into nature and enjoy and evening under the stars.
While there are restrictions on use of the observatory scopes and the Women’s, Men’s and Family bunkhouses, camping is encouraged. On prime evenings, we have been averaging 15 to 20 groups observing or imaging, and I have personally met several new members, returning members, as well as friends I have not seen in a long while. It is quite sociable, and it really lifts your spirits!
So on the whole, while HAS like every other organization has had to adjust to the pandemic, we are growing, we are serving our members better, and I am certain we will come out on the other end of this much stronger and more active as an organization.