Bringing Astronomy to the Sidewalk in Pasadena and Monrovia

Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.Visitors to Old Town Pasadena enjoy views of the first-quarter moon through Jane's 12.5-inch reflector telescope.

12 years in Monrovia!

Being a Sidewalk Astronomer isn't really about “joining” anything — it‘s about embracing a philosophy and acting on it.

Ask John Dobson how he became interested in astronomy, and he‘ll answer, “I was born!” People have a natural fascination with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, but to most it‘s something they read about in a magazine or see on television.

We stop people on sidewalks and let them see the craters of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the spots on the Sun. For just a moment, they have a personal connection with the universe around them, and sometimes life seems a little better after that.

We call it “urban guerilla astronomy.”


What's Up home page from JPLWhat's Up home page from JPLUpcoming Events

Many of our sidewalk events are planned only a few hours in advance. We will send a notice to our events email list on an afternoon when we plan to be observing. Join our email list using the link to the left.

That said, there are some patterns to when we can be found, and look at the top of the website for our next astronomy nights.

We typically set up telescopes in Monrovia at Myrtle and Lime on Saturday evenings. For us to set up telescopes, the sky needs to be clear, there needs to be something to see (Moon, Jupiter, or Saturn), and we need to be available that evening.

Weather is always a factor. Our telescopes, big as they are, can not see through clouds. On an evening when we plan to be out observing, we will generally give it a try if there is a better than even chance that we'll get to view the Moon or planets. Occasionally a thin layer of haze will make the sky appear overcast, but the Moon will still show through.

There is never any charge to look through our telescopes.

What's Up for March

What's Up video podcast: ending 10 years, beginning 11 year. All from Monrovia, CA!

The moon hides red star Aldebaran and crescents dazzle after dusk. On March 4 the first quarter moon passes between Earth and the star Aldebaran, temporarily blocking our view of the star. This is called an occultation. The occultation begins and concludes at different times, depending on where you are when you view it. The event should be easy to see from most of the U.S., Mexico, most of Central America, the Western Caribbean and Bermuda. Observers along a narrow path from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Hartford, Connecticut, will see the moon "graze" the star. The star will disappear and reappear repeatedly as hills and valleys on the moon alternately obscure and reveal it. As seen from Earth, both Mercury and Venus have phases like our moon. That's because they circle the sun inside Earth's orbit. Planets that orbit between Earth and the sun are known as inner or inferior planets. Inferior planets can never be at "opposition," which is when the planet and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth. But inferior planets can be at "conjunction," which is when a planet, the sun and Earth are all in a straight line. Conjunction can happen once when the planet is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth and again when it's on the same side of the sun as Earth. When a planet is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, we say it is at "superior conjunction." As the planet moves out from behind the sun and gets closer to Earth, we see less and less of the lit side. We see phases, similar to our moon's phases. Mercury is at superior conjunction on March 6. A few weeks later, the planet emerges from behind the sun and we can once again observe it. By the end of March we'll see a last-quarter Mercury. On April 20 Mercury reaches "inferior conjunction." Brilliant Venus is also racing toward its own inferior conjunction on March 25. Watch its crescent get thinner and thinner as the planet's size appears larger and larger, because it is getting closer to Earth. Finally, look for Jupiter to rise in the East. It will be visible all month long from late evening until dawn.

Here's the Tumblr version of What's Up. Here's the full screen JPL website version of What's Up.

Jane's Favorite Things! To celebrate the one hundredth episode of ‘What’s Up’ in October 2015, I wanted to share some of my favorite celestial things. Here's the 100th What's Up video. Hope you enjoy watching it as much as I've had creating the series since 2007.

I'm creating a toolkit with NASA tools and resources to accompany each monthly video. These are for both armchair and amateur astronomers, sky loving students of all ages. It's not to early to plan for the August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse!

Observing under a clear dark sky at Amboy, CAObserving under a clear dark sky at Amboy, CADark Sky Star Parties

The Sidewalk Astronomers have a grand tradition of setting up telescopes in national parks throughout the year. For many urban dwellers, an excursion to a national park is the only opportunity to see the Milky Way for themselves. A sky full of stars can be staggering to someone who lives under the L.A. light dome.

We love to get away from the city lights, and love to invite park visitors to spend a little quality night time under a star-filled sky with our telescopes. Jane and I love to set up our big telescopes in Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP (north and south rims), and Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

Mojave National Preserve Fall 2016 Star Partiy This is one of the darkest locations in the country, and it's the closest darkest location for those of us in southern California. The preserve invites their conservancy members and friends to camp under the stars at Black Canyon Group Campsite twice a year. Our May 7 spring star party was cancelled but successfully held on June 25th. The fall star party date is November 5th. Here's the 2014 fall star party flyer to give you an idea of what to expect. Email dlamfrom@npca.org, or call 760 219-4916 to RSVP for the free event (so they know how many people are coming).

For a taste of what it's like at a dark sky star party, this Yosemite Nature Notes video was filmed during three Glacier Point Star parties Jane, Mojo and Gary attended with the San Jose Astronomical Association. Our annual Glacier Point Yosemite Star Party dates are August 12-13, 2016, not a good dark sky night with a big waxing gibbous moon, but it is the Perseid Meteor Shower weekend. There are different astronomy clubs presenting free star parties at Glacier Point each weekend from July 4 through Labor Day (full moon weekends excepting), so if you are planning a Yosemite trip save a weekend night for Glacier Point!


Feature Articles

"Take Two" on KPCC features Sidewalk Astronomers

"Mojave Desert star parties unite space lovers together under the stars" story by Caitlin Esch, features great quotes from Jane and Mojo at the Mojave National Preserve dark sky party.

Spring dark sky star party featured in the La Canada Valley Sun

Our Spring 2013 dark sky party at Mojave National Preserve attracted record attendance and spawned this great article in the La Canada Valley Sun by Tiffany Kelly

Yosemite Nature Notes - Night Skies

Gorgeous video featuring jaw-dropping time-lapse photography of the night sky from Yosemite National Park. Jane and Mojo from the Sidewalk Astronomers are featured prominently.

Photos from International Observe the Moon Night, Oct. 8, 2011

Stephen Coleman joined us to observe the moon on International Observe the Moon Night and captured some great natural-light images of astronomers and accidental astronomers.

NASA Video on Star Parties for IYA 2009

This three-minute NASA video produced for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 features astronomers from the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers at our observing site in Monrovia.

Photos from International Sidewalk Astronomy Day

A short album of photos from Myrtle and Lime in Monrovia, May 19, 2007

Our Sidewalk Flier — in PDF format

This is the flier we have at our telescopes for visitors.

Building a Dobsonian Telescope

Complete plans from Ray Cash and the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers

More feature articles...


Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones

Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Jane Houston Jones and Morris "Mojo" Jones at the Glacier Point star party in Yosemite National Park.Meet our fellow astronomers here

Jane and Mojo have been setting up telescopes on sidewalks ranging from Hawaii to Florida since 1990. As amateur astronomers, they've participated in meteor observing missions for NASA, and appeared on national TV and radio programs.

Jane and Mojo kept the Sidewalk Astronomers active in San Francisco, the birthplace of the worldwide Sidewalk Astronomers, until relocating to Southern California in late 2003. They immediately saw the potential of Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia as the perfect location for sidewalk astronomy, and bought a home there in January 2004.

Among their list of awards and accomplishments, minor planet 1992LE was designated 22338 Janemojo in their honor.

Jane works for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena managing public outreach and informal education for the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan.

Mojo is a software engineer at Fox Audience Network, and operates his own internet server for friends and family as a hobby.


Telescopes for Schools and Educational Functions

Drop us an email if you would like to have the Old Town Astronomers bring telescopes to your school or civic event. Contact us to discuss dates that are best for informal astronomy in the city. As a guideline, dates near the first-quarter Moon are the best early-evening astronomy. Don't forget to consider the time for sunset!