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Am-astronomy dying? Avg. age of beginners?

Started by RichardM, 03/05/2010 12:22PM
Posted 03/05/2010 12:22PM Opening Post
Seems like the huge wave of interest I saw in the late 1980s and 1990's has waned. I put it down to baby boomers buying in, still having memories of basic science interests and experiments done while children and teens in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many hobbies seem to have been supplanted by things like video games which offer faster, more visceral experiences for younger people, at least to most. It's too bad, but I saw the same thing happen with microscopy.


"Pluto is not a planet"
-Neptune
Posted 03/05/2010 02:52PM #1
Richard Anderson said:

Seems like the huge wave of interest I saw in the late 1980s and 1990's has waned. I put it down to baby boomers buying in, still having memories of basic science interests and experiments done while children and teens in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many hobbies seem to have been supplanted by things like video games which offer faster, more visceral experiences for younger people, at least to most. It's too bad, but I saw the same thing happen with microscopy.

I've been hearing "amateur astronomy is dying" for _at least_ the last 30 years. No...everything is not comin' up roses, but I suspect amateurs will still be around a century from now and a century after that. There are many more kids interested in astronomy than you might think...many of 'em quite active...they just don't show up at your club for various reasons.

Microscopy is an interesting pursuit, but it was never a very well defined hobby.

What do we need to work on?

Making clubs MORE WELCOMING for young people
Bringing more women into the avocation.
BRINGING MORE MINORITIES AND ESPECIALLY MINORITY YOUTH INTO THE AVOCATION.
Continuing to fight light pollution.

Uncle Rod

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Posted 03/06/2010 09:24AM #2
I go back and forth on this one. I went to a club meeting a year ago - I had not been going for quite a while and I was shocked. I walked into the room and saw a small group of "old people" sitting around talking astronomy and UFOs. Then Then realized I was one of those old people. I went away bummed out thinking the same thing - that the hobby was dying. Then I remembered a similar moment 35 years ago when I walked into my very first club meeting. Same demographics then except I was the 20 year old walking into the room of old people. They were SO excited to see someone young and I was elected president in the next elections - NEW LIFE for the club!!! Within a couple of years we had attracted new younger member - not because of me - but from public starparties and Astronomy days at a local mall - which is how I found the club. So.... big circle here. I attend a large summer starparty here in the Pacific Northwest and I see a lot of young people attending so there is hope. I bet the old people from 35 years ago were blaming TV the same way we blame the internet, cell phones and videos games for the "death" of the hobby.

Food for thought. Great question though!

Clear, sunny skies.
Tom Masterson
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Posted 03/06/2010 02:48PM | Edited 03/06/2010 02:50PM #3
Look, if we want young people in the hobby we need to go after them. Make your self a resource to your schools, go in talk to the school board tell them how you can help the staff in organizing as star party. I can tell you from my experience they will welcome you with open arms, Don't try to be a teacher but a resource for the teachers. In the past 6 months working hand and hand with the Superintendent of Schools for my school district we have started astronomy clubs in our High School, and one of our Elementary Schools. The schools have gotten 7 scopes and mounts 3 camera's, even the Captain of the football team & "the most popular girl in school" in the high school are members of the astronomy club. The most impotent thing is to make it about the kids!!! not your club, and not about you, it's always has to be about the kids.

JUST MY TWO CENTS

Bob

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Posted 03/06/2010 03:56PM #4
Judson Mitchell said:

Our club is attached to the local science center which provides a broad spectrum of science to the local schools. Unfortunately the general membership is not made up of those who are likely to go observing. That generally requires a significant trip away from the metropolis and even some of the more interested find the effort beyond that which tempts them.

Jud

Exactly. Astronomy isn't a passive hobby, it takes some effort to realize its true potential. Those who think they'll (through ignorance) set-up their new computerized scope in their suburban backyard (with their porch light on) and get the Hubble view are more and more the kind of people that seem to be beginners. They don't last more than a month. I know very few people in the hobby now who started as completely clueless, stuck it out and learned and stayed with the hobby. Mostly, because the people entering the hobby are too old to do all that. The hobbyist retiree in astronomy who is with the hobby longer than a year is rare. Hobbyists must start young, and they must have an inherent interest.


"Pluto is not a planet"
-Neptune
Posted 03/07/2010 11:34AM | Edited 03/07/2010 11:36AM #5
Richard Anderson said:

Seems like the huge wave of interest I saw in the late 1980s and 1990's has waned. I put it down to baby boomers buying in, still having memories of basic science interests and experiments done while children and teens in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many hobbies seem to have been supplanted by things like video games which offer faster, more visceral experiences for younger people, at least to most. It's too bad, but I saw the same thing happen with microscopy.

I guess it all depends on the club you belong to... "My" club, UCSD Astrophyics Club, has one old geezer and the rest are barely wet behind the ears... The club has built a couple of scopes, does outreach on campus, sets up a scope on campus during the evening, field trips, star parties, etc, etc.



I have two observing buddies, one has just turned 30, the other is around 40...

But I suspect that if one looks at the membership of "old fashioned" astronomy club you will find that most are older, the younger generation is used to living on line... Cloudy Nights, Astromart, Facebook...

And too, as with most hobbies, there are lots of first timers and far ewer who stick. One's fantasies about Stargazing are unlikely to closely match with the reality of the experience of stargazing. It takes a certain blend of curiosity, patience, and tenacity to make the effort to setup on a cold, clear night just so one can maybe get a faint glimpse of something that can be easily seen in from a warm seat looking at a computer screen.

In my view, the equipment is getting better and less expensive but the viewing conditions are steadily deteriorating. In the long run, this makes visual observation less and less intriguing.

That is until one can have a vacation home on the moon.

Jon







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