Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia

Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.Being a Sidewalk Astronomer isn't really about “joining” anything — it‘s about embracing a philosophy and acting on it.

Ask John Dobson how he became interested in astronomy, and he‘ll answer, “I was born!” People have a natural fascination with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, but to most it‘s something they read about in a magazine or see on television.

We stop people on sidewalks and let them see the craters of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the spots on the Sun. For just a moment, they have a personal connection with the universe around them, and sometimes life seems a little better after that.

We call it “urban guerilla astronomy.”

What's Up home page from JPLWhat's Up home page from JPLUpcoming Events

Many of our sidewalk events are planned only a few hours in advance. We will send a notice to our events email list on an afternoon when we plan to be observing. Join our email list using the link to the left.

That said, there are some patterns to when we can be found, and look at the top of the website for our next astronomy nights.

We typically set up telescopes in Pasadena on Colorado Blvd. somewhere between Fair Oaks and Pasadena Ave. on Friday evenings, and in Monrovia at Myrtle and Lime on Saturday evenings. For us to set up telescopes, the sky needs to be clear, there needs to be something to see (Moon, Jupiter, or Saturn), and we need to be available that evening.

Weather is always a factor. Our telescopes, big as they are, can not see through clouds. On an evening when we plan to be out observing, we will generally give it a try if there is a better than even chance that we'll get to view the Moon or planets. Occasionally a thin layer of haze will make the sky appear overcast, but the Moon will still show through.

There is never any charge to look through our telescopes.

April 2014

    There is so much to see this month in our night skies! Mars at opposition, a lunar eclipse and April's Lyrid meteor shower.

    We can show you some of these objects on the Monrovia Sidewalk Saturday night, April 5th. We can show you Mars, which will be low in the eastern sky, but it's better later in the evening than our sidewalk hours. On April 8 Mars reaches opposition, in its nearly two-year orbit, when it's directly opposite the sun in our sky. This year Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been since 2007. Mars rises in the East in the early evening and is visible all night long.

    We'll show you the crescent moon, but in another week you can see a total eclipse, but not during our public sidewalk astronomy hours. The lunar eclipse will be visible to everyone in North and South America
    and the Pacific on April 14 and 15. On the west Coast the eclipse begins at 9:53 p.m. and ends at 3:38 a.m. If you just want to catch the total eclipse, set your alarm clock for midnight on the West Coast. The total eclipse will last an hour and a half from beginning to end.

    Finally, this month's Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the night of April 22 and the morning of April 23. The third quarter moon rises an hour past midnight, brightening the sky. But the moon will only obscure the fainter meteors. Luckily, the Lyrids are known to produce bright meteors, many with persistent trains. I am betting some LA Urban skywatchers will see some. If not, watch my What's Up video to enjoy these objects vicariously, here: What's Up For April? Lyrids, Lunar Eclipse, Mars at Opposition

    The best way to familiarize yourself with the planets and keep up with the astro-buzz is to join our sidewalk astronomy outings – in the city or under dark skies. You’ll learn what’s up, get to view through a variety of telescopes and binoculars, and get all sorts of celestial scoop. Our next Sidewalk astronomy nights are April 5 and May 3. Our semi-annual Mojave National Preserve Star Party date is May 31.We'll be at the Glacier Point Star party July 25-26. You can get an idea of how awesome dark sky star parties are in this Yosemite Nature Notes star party video event from a few years ago.

    View the phases of the moon this month! New moon March 30, April 28, May 28, first quarter April 7, May 6, full moon April 15, May 14, last quarter moon April 22, May 21.

    Weekly bright comet news here.

A bronze Mark Twain from Monrovia's Library Park studies the Moon Atlas with Jane. A bronze Mark Twain from Monrovia's Library Park studies the Moon Atlas with Jane. Dark Sky Star Parties

The Sidewalk Astronomers have a grand tradition of setting up telescopes in national parks over the summer. For many urban dwellers, an excursion to a national park is the only opportunity to see the Milky Way for themselves. A sky full of stars can be staggering to someone who lives under the L.A. light dome.

We love to get away from the city lights, and love to invite park visitors to spend a little quality night time under a star-filled sky with our telescopes. Jane and I love to set up our big telescopes in Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP (north and south rims), and Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

Mojave National Preserve Spring 2014 Star Party This is one of the darkest locations in the country, and it's the closest darkest location for those of us in southern California. The preserve invites their conservancy members and friends to camp under the stars at Black Canyon Group Campsite twice a year. Scheduling for 2014 is underway. The number/email to call for RSVP is on the link below. Here's the 2013 spring star party flyer with info and RSVP contact.

Yosemite: One of the "best-kept secret" events at Yosemite National Park during the summer (between July 4 and Labor Day) is the weekend star parties at Glacier Point, high above the Yosemite Valley. The park invites a different astronomy club from Northern California to bring telescopes each non full-moon weekend all summer long. Club members get a free campsite for the weekend, and park visitors get two free star parties, on the Friday and Saturday nights. Mojo and I will be providing telescopes and a talk on July 25 and 26 2014. You can attend as a park visitor if you'd like on this weekend or another - our star parties are listed in the park visitor guide -- just look for the Glacier Point section all summer long!

For a taste of the Glacier Point star parties, this Yosemite Nature Notes video was filmed during the last three Glacier Point Star parties we attended with the San Jose Astronomical Association.

Grand Canyon Star Party: Every June for a week, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park are able to enjoy beautiful telescope views and astronomy talks at the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Astronomers travel from across the country to set up on both the North and South Rim visitor areas. Grand Canyon's 24th Annual Star Party will be held on both South and North Rims from June 21-28, 2014

Bryce Canyon Astronomy: for nearly year-round astronomy events

Feature Articles

"Take Two" on KPCC features Sidewalk Astronomers

"Mojave Desert star parties unite space lovers together under the stars" story by Caitlin Esch, features great quotes from Jane and Mojo at the Mojave National Preserve dark sky party.

Spring dark sky star party featured in the La Canada Valley Sun

Our Spring 2013 dark sky party at Mojave National Preserve attracted record attendance and spawned this great article in the La Canada Valley Sun by Tiffany Kelly

Yosemite Nature Notes - Night Skies

Gorgeous video featuring jaw-dropping time-lapse photography of the night sky from Yosemite National Park. Jane and Mojo from the Sidewalk Astronomers are featured prominently.

Photos from International Observe the Moon Night, Oct. 8, 2011

Stephen Coleman joined us to observe the moon on International Observe the Moon Night and captured some great natural-light images of astronomers and accidental astronomers.

Iapetus: East is Least and West is Best

(Updated for 2011!) Jane outlines an observing project for Saturn's strange two-colored moon Iapetus.

January observing, a Monoceros evening

Brief story from our favorite desert observing location, with pictures and astrophotos.

A Ten Planet Night

Jane writes an observing report from a desert night that featured ten planets.

Snakes, Tortoises, and Stars

Story and photo album (with some ultra-cute tortoise video) of our "Herping Star Party" in Mojave National Preserve, April 25, 2009

NASA Video on Star Parties for IYA 2009

This three-minute NASA video produced for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 features astronomers from the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers at our observing site in Monrovia.

Song, Telescope Man by Robert Cesarone and Northern Cross

Bob Cesarone of JPL moonlights as an acoustic musician, and wrote this song some years back for his favorite telescope man, John Dobson. This link is direct to the MP3 file.

Crepuscular Rays at Bryce Astronomy Festival 2007

Jane's article on this fascinating sky phenomenon we saw at Bryce Canyon.

2007 Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon Trip

Jane and Mojo travel to the North Rim and Bryce Canyon for a week of astronomy with John Dobson and Barry Peckham

Sidewalk Astronomers on Weekend America

Weekend America did a story on Jane, Mojo, and John Dobson for International Sidewalk Astronomy Day, May 19, 2007. The web site also features an article by Jane.

Photos from International Sidewalk Astronomy Day

A short album of photos from Myrtle and Lime in Monrovia, May 19, 2007

Our Sidewalk Flier — in PDF format

This is the flier we have at our telescopes for visitors.

Building a Dobsonian Telescope

Complete plans from Ray Cash and the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers

More feature articles...

Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones

Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Meet our fellow astronomers here

Jane and Mojo have been setting up telescopes on sidewalks ranging from Hawaii to Florida since 1990. As amateur astronomers, they've participated in meteor observing missions for NASA, and appeared on national TV and radio programs.

Jane and Mojo kept the Sidewalk Astronomers active in San Francisco, the birthplace of the worldwide Sidewalk Astronomers, until relocating to Southern California in late 2003. They immediately saw the potential of Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia as the perfect location for sidewalk astronomy, and bought a home there in January 2004.

Among their list of awards and accomplishments, minor planet 1992LE was designated 22338 Janemojo in their honor.

Jane works for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena managing public outreach and informal education for the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan.

Mojo is a software engineer at Fox Audience Network, and operates his own internet server for friends and family as a hobby.

Telescopes for Schools and Educational Functions

Drop us an email if you would like to have the Old Town Astronomers bring telescopes to your school or civic event. Contact us to discuss dates that are best for informal astronomy in the city. As a guideline, dates near the first-quarter Moon are the best early-evening astronomy. Don't forget to consider the time for sunset!