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That’s me in the middle.

As a telescope demonstrator, you’re bound to get asked the same questions over and over. Some are thoughtful and I’m happy to answer, while others can get old really fast.

Is There a Night When it’s Less Crowded?!

Without a doubt, it’s a very popular, historic, and iconic place. I get asked this question all the time by people impressed/annoyed by the large crowds, especially because of the difficult parking situations.

It’s ALWAYS crowded! But there are times when it’s less crowded.

  1. During what we call the “off-season,” from September through March, as most kids are in school. Even weekend nights during the off=season feel tame.
  2. On a Tuesday or Wednesday –  typically these are the two least crowded days, but I have seen exceptions.
  3. Earlier in the day before the afternoon rush – many also leave just before we open our telescopes because they either have to catch the bus, their parking meter ran out, or they’re just tired.
  4. During the Super Bowl – most people are at home watching the big game.
  5. On a Monday – when the building is CLOSED!
So…What are We Looking At?

If I’m outside working with the portable telescopes, it’s usually the first thing I get asked by a curious visitor. I cannot tell you how many people get in line without knowing what they’re about to see.

On days when the lines go super quick, sometimes I’ll get asked, “so… what is this?” if I didn’t get the chance to tell them, and because they usually don’t recognize the object unless it’s the moon.

When the line starts to build up, I will try to remind those waiting in line what they’re in line to see and try engaging them with facts. So you can imagine I’ll get a tad irritated when someone who is not paying attention will ask me, “so…. what are we looking at {again}?”

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For a brief period of time, we got to experiment with special lit up signs that gave the name of what the telescope was observing. Still, I’d get asked “what are you looking at?” but at least then I could say “it says it right here on the sign!”

How Much Does This Telescope Cost?

Inside the dome, it’s fun to point out the cost of the historical telescope. A lot of people who visit love learning the history behind it.

But with the portables outside, many are impressed with the appearance and the technology that they often ask.

However, I know that most who ask “how much?” are not actually interested in getting a scope themselves; so I often like to ask how much they think, or how much they are willing to spend on a telescope before I reveal the answer. Believe it or not, most of the time when I reveal the price tag, their response is “oh that’s not bad!”

How much do they actually cost? Come visit and find out!

Does the Light Pollution and Haze Affect How Well You Can See?

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The skies above Los Angeles are very bright, and the lights do affect our view of the stars. But if it can shine through the light pollution, we can see the object just fine through the telescope. Deep sky objects on the other hand are admittedly shells of their true selves.

What we deal with more than anything is the changing quality of the seeing conditions caused by the atmosphere and the levels of haze above Los Angeles. We can get good views as long as the air above is steady and clear. But most nights, the seeing conditions don’t work in our favor, and sometimes we’ll leave popular objects alone if they are too low above the horizon because they’ll look heavily distorted behind the haze.

Has Los Angeles Always Been this Smoggy/Hazy?

Many visitors are rather impressed by the haze/smog. They don’t know that the smog used to be much worse during the 1940s-60s, where pictures from that area show a much thicker smog. Scientific research, regulations, and efforts that were made starting in the 1970s have gradually gotten the smog levels low enough to the point where we very rarely get “smog alerts.” Compared to cities in China like Shanghai, our smog levels are nowhere near that level anymore.

But believe it or not, the Los Angeles area has always been naturally hazy due to the inversion layers and onshore flows being blocked by the nearby high mountains. Spanish explorers sailing into San Pedro Bay in 1542 could see the smoke from native villages appear to flatten out from hitting an invisible ceiling. They were so impressed by the sight that they labeled the area “Baya de los Fumos,” or “Bay of the Smokes.”

However, we can all agree that Southern California depending heavily on cars definitely doesn’t help the matter.

Can You Shine Your Laser Again?
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You can see I’m pointing straight to Mars

Rather than use my fingers, some of of us use bright green laser beams as tools to help point at objects in the sky. It’s fun to hear the initial reactions, but many times it becomes more about the laser than actually learning where stuff is in the sky.

There are many times where I’ll give small tour of the sky, showing where the planets are or where they can see familiar constellations. “Any questions?” “Yeah, can you show your laser again?”

One time, I was showing the Summer Triangle, and while I was circling my beam around the three stars, I asked, “what shape do these three stars form?” And the first answer I got was, “a circle!” – clearly he was only paying attention to the green beam.

The other follow up is usually, “how do you get one of those?!” And my answers have gradually gotten more vague.  The last thing we need is more people getting their hands on one and getting sent to federal prison for pointing them at airplanes!

Sure, I do get asked my share of good and interesting astronomy questions, but I always need to remember that most who come up are tourists who may be astronomy illiterate. As long as they are given the best experience possible for them, then I have done my job.

If you’re wanting questions regarding telescopes, click on this link to see the most common questions about telescopes I get asked! 

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