This award will fund the 2011 season of 'Universe in the Park', an outreach program that is held throughout the State park system in Wisconsin. Each Universe in the Park session starts with a presentation on a current astronomical topic or a recent discovery by an undergraduate (or graduate) student form the University of Wisconsin. The students then lead an observing session for the public using large-aperture, but portable, telescopes. In addition to the broad impact on the public participants, the students learn how to prepare and make presentations to lay audiences, hone their knowledge of the sky, and keep current on recent astronomical events. This award will fund approximately 60 Universe in the Park sessions and will reach an audience of several thousand. The web page for the program is: www.astro.wisc.edu/uitp/
"Universe in the Park" is predicated on the simple idea that the best environment in which to introduce the General Public to the wonders of astronomy is outside under dark skies. With the support of this NSF grant we offered "UitP" sessions to state parks across Wisconsin beginning in late May and lasting through much of October. Each sessions begins with a 20-30 minute presentation of the latest results in astronomy and is followed by sky viewing using one of UitP's 8-10 inch telescopes. We typically look at whatever planets are up (Saturn was available early in the UitP season in 2011), star clusters, the Moon, and - on very dark nights - galaxies. The Perseid meteor shower in August is a favorite event for UitP. Plenty of time is left for questions from the audience. In 2011 we had 45 UitP sessions in over 30 different state parks and forests in Wisconsin. One of the broader impacts of this project is that we able to train young scientists, both graduate and undergraduate students, in being able to introduce astronomy to the General Public. Particularly rewarding is seeing undergraduate students, most of whom are residents of Wisconsin, being able to go to state parks close to home and present in front of friends and family while serving as role models for the next generation. The average attendance at UitP events was between 50-70 people, most of whom were camping in the park, but some of whom come from the surrounding community. All told, Universe in the Park reached well over 2500 people in state parks throughout Wisconsin during the summer of 2011.