IDEA #25. Find an opportunity to use a serious telescope at a local observatory, astronomy club, or with a relative or friend who has one. Observe the rings of Saturn for yourself.
A good telescope is a costly object, and a truly great telescope is well out of the reach of most individuals. However, any number of organizations and individuals are deeply committed to offering access to the sights that can be seen through such instruments.
In your community there may be an astronomy club, or perhaps there is such an organization at a local school or college. Some clubs and educational institutions have “open viewing” nights when they make their equipment available to all comers, asking only for the users’ interest or perhaps a modest donation. These sky parties, as they are sometimes known, bring together both amateurs and experts (and astronomy has a long tradition of amateurs who are experts) to share their knowledge and their telescopes, and most groups are especially eager to host young viewers. Sometimes individuals have built their own observatories, often identifiable by the dome-shaped telescope housing that is the highest point on a building; such individuals could be approached for permission to view some night—the worst they can say is no.
Once a young person has viewed a nebula or a planet through a high-quality telescope, he or she will never see the night sky the same way again. The rings of Saturn, for example, are quite familiar from drawings and photographs, but seeing them with one’s own eyes is an amazing experience. Even if this activity does not spur the youngster on to become the next Copernicus or Stephen Hawking, it will alter his or her perspective if only to the extent that it makes more real the descriptions and models of the universe upon which we base our understanding of the cosmos.