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Statewide Homegrown 4

Arkansas Library Telescopes


Have you ever noticed how the moon changes from day to day? Can you locate the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt or any other constellations? Or name eight (or nine if, like me, you still hold on to Pluto) planets? Can you spot them in the sky? Thanks to the Arkansas Library Telescope Program, viewing the night sky is now accessible to more people across the state.

The celestial bodies mentioned above account for only 20 of the millions of dots in the sky. Only 5,000 stars are visible to the naked eye, a pair of binoculars increases that number to around 100,000, and a basic telescope will allow you to see approximately 5 million. While most of us don’t have a telescope at home, you can borrow one from your local library thanks to the Arkansas Natural Sky Association, the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and several other amateur astronomical groups.

My love for the night sky began in elementary school when my science teacher built a planetarium out of trash bags and a box fan and installed it in our classroom. Crawling into the dark enclosure and viewing the light that shined through the dozen constellations she had carefully poked into the surface with a pin was an incredible and memorable experience.

My dad loved NASA and taught us about space travel, the moon and the night sky. We had a telescope and spent many nights observing stars and planets. My dad took us to view lunar eclipses and ensured we didn’t miss the opportunity to see Halley’s comet when it passed over our house in 1986.

Years later, when I became a mom, my young son was fascinated with the moon, and I found myself in a position to begin teaching him about the beauty beyond the earth’s atmosphere. That’s easy to do with a telescope, and I found it easy to borrow one from several libraries in our area.

Reserve a Telescope with Your Local Library

The Arkansas Library Telescope Program was launched in 2016 and placed about 50 telescopes in libraries across Arkansas. The program has increased to include more than a hundred telescopes available at over 50 libraries. Getting a telescope is as simple as checking out a book and is entirely free of cost.

Photo courtesy of Adria English.

When you pick up your telescope, you will receive a contract with information about it, how to use it and how to properly store it until you return it to the library. Along with the 4.5” 5x Orion StarBlast Telescope, library patrons will also receive materials to help them view the night sky, including a field guide and a user guide that walks you through how to use the telescope and gives you suggestions on what to view each night.

Once you get home, you can set up the telescope and begin viewing. The telescope is portable, so you can venture out to parks and rural areas for a clearer sky view. It’s yours to use for two weeks, so you have plenty of time to wait for a clear night.

A complete list of libraries participating in the Library Telescope Program is available here.

Are you surprised your local library has telescopes? I was too, but Arkansas libraries have many unexpected items available for patrons. Check out Library Rentals Beyond Books for more information.

Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Stargazing in Arkansas

Across Arkansas, stars can be observed on any clear night, year-round. While some of the best views are available in the winter, there is never a wrong time of year to view the night sky.

Check out our guide to stargazing in Arkansas and follow these handy tips:

  1. Get away from city lights. For the best results, look for an area well outside town with less artificial light. Artificial light causes light pollution, which can negatively affect your viewing experience.
  2. Dress appropriately. Most people don’t spend much time outdoors after dark. It can be considerably cooler, so dress in layers.
  3. Bring a map. A map of what’s currently viewable in the sky will help you find constellations and planets.
  4. Let your eyes adjust. It can take 20 minutes or so for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Once outside, avoid using artificial light or your cell phone.
  5. Use an amber or red flashlight. If you need a light for walking or viewing your stargazing materials, an amber or red flashlight will help you to see without polluting the area with light.
  6. Bring your friends. Stargazing is a great community activity. Bring your family and friends and enjoy viewing the night sky.

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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and teaches art part-time at a local private school. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas where they raise chickens, farm hay and bake bread. Julie loves adventure and sharing it with her husband and son. They frequent the trails, campgrounds and parks of Arkansas, always on the hunt for new adventures and new stories to share. Learn more on her blog Seek Adventures Media.

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4 responses to “Arkansas Library Telescopes”

  1. Jonathan Steele says:

    I didn’t know this was a thing until I read this article! My daughter has been asking questions about the moon and the stars and this is perfect. I just picked up a telescope from the Searcy Public Library.

  2. That is great! Let us know how she likes it!

  3. […] Arkansas Astronomical Society and with funding from the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, has Orion telescopes available to its cardholders. My own Baxter County Library has three Orion Telescopes, provided by the […]

  4. […] in using a telescope at home or in the classroom? Check out the Arkansas Library Telescope […]

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