With summertime in full swing, kids getting out of school and warmer weather becoming the norm, Southern Californian residents know it’s that time of year again for the annual San Diego County Fair! For nearly a month in June and early July, over one million visitors converge on the Del Mar Fairgrounds for a full range of fun and exciting activities such as contests, exhibits, games, rides, concerts, livestock and consuming more fried foods than you could ever imagine! Fried frog legs or fried bacon doughnuts anyone? Each year the fair has a different theme and for 2012, “Out of This World” was chosen to pay homage to mankind’s fascination with the wonders of outer space, as well as the fun world of science fiction fantasy. What a fitting theme this year for the fifth largest fair in America.
Oceanside Photo and Telescope’s Website Manager, Penny Distasio, invited Celestron to team up and for a block of three days, exhibit telescopes inside the fair’s Theme Exhibit Building – filled with space related displays including a gigantic, colorful UFO. How could we turn that down? We joined OPT (who is working the duration of the event) and set up our telescopes on a raised stage on one end of the building to observe “planetary” objects hanging from wires on the opposite end. I was told the OPT gals spent a few Wednesday evenings creating a realistic Solar System display just for the exhibit. Well done ladies!
Once the building opened, fairgoers quickly spotted our telescopes and a line formed as staff members permitted guests to walk up on stage two to five at a time for viewing. A Celestron NexStar 6SE and AstroMaster 70AZ were the telescope workhorses and aimed at different planetary objects, while a CPC 1100 and a PlaneWave 17” CDK optical tube assembly stood on static display behind the stage. Guests were quite amazed at the magnification prowess of each telescope considering how far away the targets were placed. A considerable amount of planetary details were faithfully replicated, including "Saturn's" Cassini Division and "Neptune's" raging storm. Quite a number of children, some as young as four years of age, were able to name all the Terrestrial and Jovian planets and in order! Many guests welcomed their first opportunity to peek through telescopes, even if the targets were just models. It just goes to show how much work is still needed to get the word out on how fun, exciting and educational telescope observing really is.
The San Diego County Fair comes to a close on July 4th, but until then, there is still plenty of astronomy outreach that will be taking place at the OPT stage. Each day will continue to bring in hundreds and hundreds of new visitors who will also have the opportunity to view through the telescopes. How many people will become inspired with the wonders of astronomy and related sciences? Judging by all the happy smiles we encountered thus far, I would say “more than you can imagine.” Stop by the fair and say hello to OPT staff members who will continue to provide telescope viewing until the fair comes to a close with a bang, and I do mean that literally. Thank you Penny and OPT for inviting Celestron to participate at such a worthwhile public outreach event. We will see you all again in a few weeks at SCAE on July 14th!