Meteor shower

He hits the downtown streets in darkness, and he's on a mission.

Armed with a telescope, tripod and star charts, "sidewalk astronomer" Dave Doody of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is setting out into night in Pasadena's Old Town this Saturday, Sept. 19, to bring the planets to the people.

The last time he set up a 200-millimeter-diameter (8-inch) Tinsley telescope on the streets of Pasadena, Doody said that a line of people stretched halfway down the block, and more than 900 were able to view Jupiter and some of its moons over the course of the evening. "People offered money to look, but of course it's free-of-charge," said Doody, who volunteers his time as a street astronomer as a member of JPL's Amateur Astronomy Club, which has the telescope on loan from the Lab's Telescopes In Education project.

Doody said that most of the people he meets on his urban skywatching adventures have never before looked at the heavens through a telescope. "When people look at a little dot in the sky with their naked eye, then see it through the telescope, they see why it's so fascinating and why you want to send a spacecraft to it to study it close-up," he said. "Most people are astounded."

An engineer at JPL since 1982, Doody is currently a flight operations engineer on NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, which was launched last October on a seven-year flight to the ringed planet. A former instructor for Japan Airlines pilots who has also worked as a systems engineer on Santa Catalina Island, Doody is the co-author of "The Basics of Space Flight," a popular web site on JPL's Internet home page. His articles also appear occasionally in popular magazines.

This Saturday, Doody plans to set up his sidewalk observatory on the pavement on the north side of Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard "somewhere between Raymond on the east and DeLacey on the west, depending on where I can find a parking space," he said. "Jupiter is the main target at 8 p.m., but we may see Saturn later."

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.


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