3 min read

Trick or Treat: Sidewalk Astronomy!

Spooky stargazing can be a lot of fun! If you want to get lots of kids to your telescope, performing sidewalk astronomy on Halloween may sound like a perfect idea, and the American Astronomical Association (AAS) agrees! The AAS Division for Planetary Sciences' "Trick or Treat and Telescopes" initiative is aimed at bringing astronomy to as many trick-or-treaters as possible on Halloween.  This new initiative is based on an activity that AAS member Richard Schmude Jr. performed for years, with over 5,000 children reached by his count. Amateur astronomers are encouraged to set up their telescopes during trick-or-treat time on Halloween on their own lawns, sidewalks, or even in neighbor lawns with better viewing conditions or more traffic.

Ken Coates of the Mount Diablo Astronomical Society shares his Halloween setup! Ken reports, "I set up in the driveway with a table that had a jack-o-lantern on it along with candy and my telescope. As trick-or-treaters approached, I asked them if they wanted to look at the Moon through a telescope. All were very enthusiastic. I had a small stepstool so everyone could take a look through the telescope. The best comment of all came when I ran out of candy. When the next group approached, I said "I ran out of candy, but you can look at the Moon through a telescope". One girl replied enthusiastically: "Looking at the Moon through a telescope is much better than getting candy!" I also got some nice compliments from parents thanking me for doing this."
Ken Coates, Mount Diablo Astronomical Society

Some important tips for great Halloween stargazing include:

  • Preserve Night Vision with Red Light:  Use red lighting in your viewing area. This keeps pedestrians visible to cars without ruining your ability to see the stars. Red light is also a appropriately moody and spooky. If you are near a busy roadway, consider a prominent sign to let cars know folks might be gathered and easily blinded by headlights.
  • Temporary Storage for Elaborate Costumes and Masks: Some costumes will not be ideal for peering through an eyepiece. Have a space to take off and store cumbersome costumes or masks while viewing.
  • Prepare for Sticky Fingers and Messy Faces: Candy is great, except when it gets on your optics and equipment! Baby wipes or a little hand-washing station will reduce the risk to your equipment (note: this also helps with accidental makeup smears!)
  • Ken DeSilva shared a great hack for keeping eyepieces clean with rings of PVC pipe - an especially handy trick for dealing with Halloween makeup!  

You can check out the Trick or Treat and Telescope's page on the AAS website for more advice and connections to additional resources to help you make the most of your potential trick or treating stargazers. Jane Houston Jones also offers a fun Spooky Stargazing list (2014), with a wide variety of objects to keep every level of visitor entertained.

Horror movie style poster that says "A Cosmological Feature: This Bone Chilling Force Will Leave You Shivering Alone in Terror. Dark Energy"
This bone-chilling force will leave you shivering alone in terror! An unseen power is prowling throughout the cosmos, driving the universe to expand at a quickening rate. This relentless pressure, called dark energy, is nothing like dark matter, that mysterious material only revealed by its gravitational pull. Dark energy offers a bigger fright: pushing galaxies farther apart over trillions of years, leaving the universe to an inescapable, freezing death in the pitch-black expanse of outer space.​
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Need some additional décor? NASA offers their excellent Galaxy of Horrors series of posters for download.

Two people dressed up for Halloween with a telescope and a decorated table in the background
"Boo!" - Derek Demeter, Central Florida Astronomical Society

Find other events in your area and see what neighboring clubs are up to by checking out the Night Sky Network's events list for Halloween. Stay warm and stay safe this Halloween, and may your skies be clear and the weather great-not just for great stargazing, but for great trick or treating!

Originally Posted by Dave Prosper: October 2022

Last Updated by Kat Troche: September 2023