How a Hobby Turned Into Astronomy Outreach

2-day_4_observing_site_summer4th Day Observing Site. We regularly observe the heavens from an observing site in our backyard, where we set up equipment, sketch sky objects (moon, planets, and deep sky objects), have friends visit to see the heavens, and train others to use astronomy equipment. It all began with a desire to have one telescope around 2000. But one turned into several to teach children, then to conduct outreach, then to talk about Biblical creation, and so on. Eventually this observing site became the place to store equipment, prepare for overseas shipments, have regular outreaches to share about the created heavens, and devise a practical curriculum to take with us overseas (see AOBV under courses). The small observatory on the left can house telescopes. The “sky” shed is our storage and assembly point. This is a summer view showing deciduous trees and the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains where we live.

2-day_4_observing_site_winterVideo Astronomy. The observing area in winter brings cold temperatures and bare trees, but also brings many clear nights to observe. Using special astro-video tools, we can project what the telescope “sees” into the sky shed on the right or into our home, where we or a small group of people can study and sketch objects by watching a small monitor. As of 2012 we began broadcasting some of our sessions on Night Skies Network, where friends (including our overseas friends) could watch a streaming broadcast of what we were observing. They can listen but also watch the object and learn how to develop an observing sheet. It provides an excellent way for others to practice what we teach in AOBV, when they might not have the right equipment or time of day to observe. For instance, Philippine friends can watch the broadcast and hear us while developing their own observing sheets. They are seated in a classroom in the daytime while we are on the opposite side of the planet in the middle of the night. It works! We do 20-30 broadcasts per year.


2-day_4_observing_site_fallExpanded Outreach. In the fall, our location has a 3 week period where the leaves change from greens to reds, golds, yellows, and browns.  It is also a time when we can use the observing area to see much of the Milky Way (our own galaxy) and numerous beautiful sky objects that are excellent examples of God’s creative handiwork. You will find many of the results on the Parables of Sky blog. The blog has become a key way to speak of God’s created heavens and how they display his glory (Psalm 19:1-4). While our set up at home may look elaborate, remember that it began with a single telescope and a simple personal hobby. Because we love to see God’s creation, the heavens were exciting, and we always want to share about Him, we increasingly made this activity an outreach tool. Overseas and in the US, many people have never used optics or been taught how to observe the heavens. Teaching practical astronomy observation from a biblical view proved a key way to answer educational needs while presenting a biblical view of the heavens, as part of God’s creation work in Genesis.  Now we rarely travel without taking a portable observing kit for the purpose of sharing the created heavens and pointing our His handiwork. Sometimes we go to camps or churches to do outreach presentations or teach sections of AOBV. On occasion (like in the Philippines), we taught the whole AOBV course to establish a capbility to teach generations of children in a foundation of schools.

The Sketch Work (Observing Sheets of Observed Objects). Many people seem to enjoy the sketch work. On the Parables of the Sky blog we link sketches to stories. We encourage you to look at those posts. In the paragraphs below, we have posted examples of the sketches in categories of sky objects, so the viewer can have an idea of the kinds of things we observe. We hope you enjoy the tour.


The moon is an obvious target to observe and a wonderful subject to sketch. Observations can be day or night and under varied conditions, as you will see below.

2-19may07_binocs_moonandvenus__large_An observer does not need a big telescope to watch and sketch lunar scenes. Moonsets and rises are beautiful to capture, even when weather conditions are poor. The sky was full of clouds and mist the evening this sketch was done but the view was beautiful for eyes alone or a binocular. The extra part of this sketch was that the moon was in the same field of view with Venus, which is the white dot to the left of the moon. The apparent nearness of planets and moon is predictable and is called a conjunction. Conjunctions are popular to observe and fun to sketch. When we do sketches we often are impressed with a lesson or scripture that is pertinent at the time of the observation, as was the case for this evening in May 2007.




We often sketch together during observing periods. On April 22, 2007 the moon was bright and the evening was clear. We chose to sketch an area near the crater Theopilus. This sketch was done by Roland, who chose a smaller area to cover than Linda.





Roland captured a smaller area than Linda in the lunar region on the same evening. On an evening such as this, we learn to work beside each other and enjoy the wonder of God’s created moon. It is a beautiful object but has no life or light of it’s own. This is very much like the Bible premise that we need Jesus Christ, who is the light of life, to truly give us life. Without him, like the moon without sunlight, we do not have life.


2-081213moonsetwebAround the period of every full moon there are wonderful opportunities to sketch the moon setting in the early morning hours. This one occurred on a cold, clear and crisp morning but also the day in which the moon was at it’s closest approach to earth. In this case, the setting moon is accented by the terrain near our home. In the late fall the leaves are almost gone from the trees but the treeline made a beautiful foreground for the scene. It was a very good morning to give thanks.


Because of the way God created the solar system, many of the planets can be observed with small telescopes. They are fun to observe and people observe the same planets many times because the scenes change due to atmospheric conditions, planetary moon position, and planet rotation. They are beautiful objects to study. The following sketches show a couple examples of Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Saturn, which are the easiest and probably most popular planets to observe.



Planetary observing of the ‘gas giants’ (Jupiter and Saturn) and Mars can provide many hours of enjoyable observing. The features of each planet are changeable and they are bright enough so color can be detected with medium size telescopes. As this sketch illustrates, simple binoculars or eyes alone can see magnificent conjunctions, where planets, the moon, or key stars are close to each other.

2-080100_marsThere are times when Mars and the other planets cannot be seen at all, so when they can be observed it is a treat. Planetary observing is rewarding because it permits an observer to see detail for himself. The person becomes an eye-witness. Over time, changes and trends can be noted that attest to some of the wonders of the solar system–a system specifically designed, balanced, and sustained by God. The contrast with God’s created earth is unmistakable since this planet is so full of life. On these sequential sketches of Mars we commented on that contrast. By using robotic satellites, we often illustrate the moons of Jupiter and Saturn during presentations because they show radically different features but are also lifeless, like their parent planets. These planetary moons, however, cannot be seen in detail with a typical backyard telescope.


The scriptures make two plain and direct references to the fact that every star was created and named by God. With this in view, when one looks at a galaxy and realizes the number of countless stars in that galaxy, it becomes mind boggling. Then, extend that view to include the famous deep space pictures from Hubble when it was assigned to get an image in a region relatively devoid of activity. The image shows hundreds of galaxies. It seems that God, in his wisdom and extravagance to show us a tiny picture of the depth of his works and the glory of himself, created galaxies. In David’s time, when he was watching sheep on the hillsides, could have seen the ghostly white area of Andromeda in the late summer and fall, which is the brightest galaxy that we can see and one that can be seen with averted vision in a dark area on a very clear night. Those conditions are rare today in most places, but we can see many others with small telescopes. Like stars, they show great variety with respect to appearance and other technical characteristics. The sketches below are just a few examples of many we have sketched and have shown others.



We attended a “star party” in the Spring of 2009, which is where many amateur astronomers come together with telescopes in hand to observe together for several days. During one of those evenings, I “borrowed” a 17.5 inch Dobsonian telescope from a friend, who also was using an astro-video camera. He stayed on this object for a little less than one-hour, which was enough time to sketch this beautiful little galaxy, which also hosts a supernova. It was a very good night to give thanks.



Small telescopes can see a few edge-on galaxies. This is a popular one that we viewed with a medium sized scope and an astro-video camera. Like always, we study and sketch these objects. One learns quickly that taking your time and studying an object makes the observer much more aware of detail. It is truly exciting and worthy of praise to God to be able to see objects like this, realizing that the mighty hand of God has wrought countless works like this that we can study and observe. Just a few decades ago, it would not have been possible because optical instruments were not available or too expensive.



This particular night was unique because we were away from home, we were sketching together, and we only had a 5 inch telescope. With the help of astro-video, however, we could display the scene on a high resolution monitor and study and sketch it together. More often than not we are sharing the skies with others, so studying objects together in private is a special time.



The object is another popular galaxy whose name is M101. The Messier objects are named for a French astronomer by the same name who was actually looking for comets. Fuzzy objects in the sky were interfering with his search so he numbered and described them. Since then, this identification of a little over hundred objects have become famous to observe. This sketch was done by Linda of M101, which is a beautiful face-on spiral galaxy.


Globular Star Clusters and Open Star Clusters

Star clusters are a favorite type of object to observe. Small telescopes and binoculars can be used for many of the popular or well-known clusters. God made the globulars unique with high densities and a gravitational attraction among its “members” that is in contrast to most open clusters, which may not have any physical relationship among its “members”. In both cases God has given them an equilibrium of sorts so that we can observe them as static objects on our time scale. The most famous open cluster is probably the Pleiades (we know as M45), which is mentioned in the scriptures. Two famous globular clusters that can be seen with binoculars are the Hercules cluster (M13, north of the ecliptic and highest in May-July) and Omega Centauri (in the southern sky and highest in April-June) but there are many others that are beautiful, relatively easy to find, and can be seen with low power. The globulars often have pet names: snow balls, fuzzies, or puff balls. The larger the telescope the more individual stars can be resolved. A few sketches of clusters follow.

2-20090221-ngc-2244NGC 2244 is an open cluster in the midst of a nebula but only the cluster can be seen at lower magnifications. While an observer needs a small telescope to see most of this cluster, many clusters do not. Prominent open clusters are fun to observe with eyes alone because they appear as a fuzzy area of faint white with a few stars, like the Pleiades (M45) or the “Hair of Berenice” (Mel 111). Each cluster has a distinct appearance that is created and placed by God for observation.



The sketches of Omega Centauri in the far south and M68 were done with a manual mount (no computer control or pointing) and modest telescopes (either an 8 inch or a 4 inch scope). An even smaller telescope or a binoculars can see these globular clusters that are well known and popular for observation. It was a good night to give thanks.


2-081206twoobjectnightwebThis is a good example of an observing period where a couple objects are found, studied, and sketched. You will notice that the conditions, place, equipment that was used, and the date/time of the observation are all included. As our curriculum teaches, we try to include this information on the sketch or on unattached notes. We also encourage observers to cite a scripture or lesson derived from a Bible concept or scene. On this sketch, we cite a scripture that seemed appropriate. M36 is the globular cluster, which can be seen with binocular.

2-080918m25The globular cluster M25 is sketched on this paper with two different instruments when sky conditions were poor. You can tell that low power instruments and small binocular do very well–even when conditions are not particularly good. Further, the smaller instruments permit one to see the surrounding stars, which are the context for the object. Again, scriptures are cited and the sketch is laid out to show time, place, instrument, and conditions.



The Trifid Nebula (20) is in one of the most exciting parts of the southern sky to observe because of the number and brightness of the objects. The Trifid is the hardest of three (M8, M20, and M21) to see but each has beautiful colors and features that are observable with small telescopes in the the June to September time frame. Astro-video or astro-photography tools must be used to see the color, but the binocular views without color are still very impressive. Linda captures the 3 or “tri” parts of the nebula very well along with the gentle colors.

2-linda_m27_july07We have sketched the Dumbbell Nebula on more than one occasion because it is so beautiful. While it can be seen with a medium size binocular and better with a small telescope, it is astounding with astro video camera mounted on a telescope because of the variety of colors and shapes. Linda’s sketch captures the bow-tie shape of the object as well as the reds, greens, and blues that can be seen. The development of this kind of sketch takes a bit of time since one must place significant stars in the field then place both the shapes and color variations among the star field. Only God knew that during this last few decades would common people like us be able to view the object in color from our own back yards. It was a good night to give thanks.

2-080301_m42_102edThe Orion Nebula (M42) is probably the most well known but it the brightest nebula in the sky to observe. We have sketched all or parts of it many times, and many people have done the same thing. In short, it is an astounding object to observe. On this particular night, Roland sought to capture the prominent shape of the “wings”, the major star field, and the colors that were apparent using the astro-astro video camera on a 4 inch refractor telescope. For contrast, he used dark blue construction paper instead of black or white paper.

2-080821m17webThe Swan Nebula (M17) is another object in the Sagittarius area in the southern sky. While its general shape can be seen with a small telescope, a larger scope with astro-video quickly reveals the beautiful color and hues. It is truly a magnificent object to study and sketch but the task takes patience and time due to the number of colors, complex shapes, and color transitions. As said before, for God to be so gracious to provide the stars, stellar clouds, and present day instruments so that a little person can see, study, and sketch such a beautiful object is a distinct privilege.

Other Objects Sketched with Eyes Alone or Other Instruments

Many objects are combinations of other objects. Constellations in themselves are beautiful to observe. Objects can also be accented by terrestrial background or atmospheric conditions. Light play in the skies takes hundreds of forms, but all are present so we can observe and appreciate what God has wrought or caused from his creation of the atmosphere, the water cycle, and the heavens beyond the atmosphere. A favorite for most people are sun or moon rises and sets, which we frequently observe and sketch also.

We know and testify that Jesus Christ puts light in the heart, and part of the effect of that light is to appreciate what he has made through observation. In short, what we see points to him. The intricacies of the heavens can be studied, observed, sketched, and enjoyed for a life time without reaching a small fraction of what is available to observe with eyes, a small telescope, or a binocular. We encourage you to observe.

A few other sketch examples of other objects are shown below. As you will see, observing many phenomena can be done during the day or dusk/dawn as well as at night. Send us your own observations if you would like and tell us how they have encouraged you to know Him, the creator and sustainer of all things. We will post them with your permission in the student/teacher galleries.

If requested, we would be glad to give presentations, illustrate the curriculum we provide students/teachers, and declare the glory of the heavens, since they point to Him. We are looking for Christians who believe that God created the heavens as declared in the Bible, so that we might train them to do as we are doing. You can contact us by using the “contact us” button on many of the pages of the site. Please tell us of your own excitment for observing the created heavens.

Roland and Linda



While the apparent rotation of skies and the location of objects is well known, the atmospheric conditions introduce fast changes to moon or sun rises and sets. Many of these changes are wonderful to observe. This pair of sketches was done from our front yard and they were done only a few minutes apart. It shows the dramatic changes in color and appearance of the moon. As in many sketches we do, it reminds us of spiritual truth, which is included in the sketch page.



2-080914lunarhalowebLunar halos are common, but each one is unique because of the time and conditions under which it occurs. This one was directly overhead, prominent, sliced with contrails from jet airplanes, and accented with clouds.

Lunar halos, sun “dogs”, refraction of light through clouds, rainbows, meteors entering the atmosphere, and day time moon scenes are but a few of the many observations of sky or heaven phenomena that are common and do not require any optical assistance. When a person becomes more disciplined in the practice of noticing the sky or the heavens, the high frequency of observing opportunities to see these events is quite surprising. With paper and pencil in hand, these opportunities can be recorded, which improves observing skills, saves the moment for others to see, and teaches the observer about the sky.



Once an observer gets some familiarity with the sky, night observing periods often permit studying several objects in a short time. Conditions may be poor for traditional observing, but disciplined observation is a practice that aims to get the most from whatever conditions are presented. The sketch shows such a time, where atmospheric conditions were poor for traditional observing but beautiful for the array of objects that could be seen. In this case, the unstable atmosphere enhanced the beauty of the scenes.


2-sagregionforwebOur own galaxy (the Milky Way) presents a dramatic object to study in parts. This sketch was developed using a small manual camera lens attached to a video camera that permitted the Saggitarius region in the southern sky to be studied. The “Teapot” or the Saggitarius constellation is famous and prominent from July to October but is nearly overhead for people in the southern hemisphere. On a clear night this area of the sky is magnificent, hosts many famous objects, but also has a spectacular general appearance that can be studied and enjoyed for hours and repeated evenings. The sketch was developed from one hour of that enjoyment.


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