The Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit (SBAU) beat out over 30 other contestants from over half-a-dozen states and six countries to receive Astronomy Magazine’s 2010 Out-of-This-World Award honoring astronomy outreach programs. As a recipient of this award, SBAU won a $2,500 cash prize that will go toward building its award-winning telescope.
The magazine made the announcement on March 31, recognizing SBAU’s outstanding community involvement and its design and construction of the new UC2 (You See Too) wheelchair-friendly telescope viewing system. The group, which is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, will unveil its award-winning telescope at the museum on May 7, which also marks International Astronomy Day. The new telescope is unique in that it now offers wheelchair-bound stargazers the opportunity to view the galaxy with ease.
Inspiration for the telescope came initially from SBAU secretary and engineer Jim Williams, who walks with a cane. When Williams finally proposed the design to group president and local probation officer Ruben Gutierrez, he and his fellow board members were enthusiastic to set the idea in motion.
“He’d been working on it for the past two years and he basically created the entire design,” said Gutierrez. “When he finally proposed it to us we just said it was perfect. It has a unique hydraulic lift system that can be adjusted to any wheelchair and the computer will compensate to the movement.”
The unveiling event will begin at 10 a.m. and is free and open to the public. One of the biggest outreach events of the year, Astronomy Day will include a number of hands-on activities and informational booths as well as public telescopes for museum-goers to enjoy. Among the activities is a telescope clinic beginning at 7 p.m. that will educate the public on how to properly use their telescopes. The SBAU will also hold a raffle giving away a Dobsonian telescope and an Orion StarBlast telescope.
The group, which has over 120 members including students, engineers, and general star enthusiasts, holds monthly meetings and helps promote the spirit of discovery through outreach within the Santa Barbara community.
“We have science nights, or ‘star parties’ as we call them, where we get the local elementary schools out to the Westmont College observatory and open up the telescopes for them. We’ve been doing this for years and years. We also hold year-round parties where people bring their own telescopes and we go to Cachuma Lake or Carpinteria Beach,” said Gutierrez.
The UC2 telescope, which is actually portable, will also be taken to elderly homes, an outreach opportunity close to Gutierrez’s heart, as his parents currently reside in one locally. He looks forward to educating and getting people young and old excited about the starry skies.