I'm considering starting the Rover Project Badge. I have an idea for a project, but since I'm the first in my crew to try for the badge, I want to run my idea by others to make sure it is appropriate.

I would like to produce an astronomy handbook for the BPSA (and for any others who would want to use it). I would like it to be freely downloadable but also purchasable in A5 format like the Rover Handbook. I'm also considering a second version for my local astronomy club. The handbook would include information on the pathfinder astronomy badge, but would be much more than just a badge pamphlet. I plan for it to look professional and include

-- computer generated star charts to help readers learn basic constellations, along with hints about how to find certain stars and constellations
-- different ways to find north using the stars
-- how to approximately find your latitude using the stars
-- advice on observing the moon and planets including a table of where to find the planets for the next few years
-- advice on safely viewing the sun
-- advice on using/buying binoculars and telescopes (lots of inexpensive telescopes and some expensive ones are garbage)
-- a simple moon map
-- a planisphere which would have to be downloaded separately and assembled, A5 is too small (a planisphere is a rotating star chart--you match the date with the time and it shows what is visible in the sky)
-- charts showing gow to find some interesting (mostly binocular) objects, such as the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Lagoon Nebula, the Beehive Cluster, the variable star Algol, and M13 (a globular cluster in Hercules).
-- information on time and astronomy
-- a list of good websites to visit and books and magazines to read

It would be primarily a stargazing guide but would include correct scientific explanations of basic sky motions, the seasons, lunar phases, eclipses, and perhaps more.

For me, this is a subject that I am already well versed in. I am a professor in a physics and astronomy department, I ran my university's planetarium for five years, and I have been an amateur astronomer since I was a 7th grader. Although my degrees are all in physics and not in astronomy, I have taught many college astronomy courses, I conduct research with undergraduates at our local observatory, and I have published some of our results in low-level journals. When I was planetarium director I often made simple charts to distribute to the public--but for this project I intend to reach a higher level of achievement. I would make all the maps and tables myself using software that allows me to freely distribute the products. I would write all of the text and produce all of the diagrams or find freely distributable ones to use. I would run it by professional astronomers to check for scientific accuracy. I would also solicit feedback from my amateur astronomer friends, youth, and K-12 educators and education experts. I will also have proofreaders check for clarity and proper grammar. I want this to be a professional-looking and polished work.

I expect the entire project to take a considerable amount of time, but hope to finish within a year and a half (no guarantees on that). I also expect that, like with most projects, it will evolve and won't look quite like what I have outlined here, but I think it will be close.

So (and thanks for reading this far!) I would like opinions as to whether this is an acceptible project for the Rover Project Badge. Also, for any HQ folks reading, if I succeed and produce a worthwhile product, is this something the BPSA would be willing to distribute on its web site?

Many thanks,

George
6th Woodrunners Rover Crew

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I think that sounds like a great idea, George!  I would love to see a series of instructional references like that for all the Pathfinder badges eventually.  I think your proposed Project is a great place for us to start.  I would definitely support this as a valid project for the Project Badge.

-Scott Moore

I'll second Scott's comments, and I'll place a pre-order for the A5 book!

Good luck

Thank you both--that gives me some confidence.  I'll write this up, submit it to my RSL, and, I hope, get started on it soon.

Awesome project! Let us know about it. I am thinking about a land navigation manual in spanish that might become my project in the future.

I'm still plugging away at it.  I haven't had as much time to devote to it as I had hoped--life got in the way and ate up a lot of my summer.  I thought I could make figures using existing software, but wasn't happy with the results, so I've been writing my own code and that's slowed me down.  So far I've done a lot of background work, have more than half of the work on the planisphere done, but nothing to show other folks yet.

I'm "bumping" this thread, just because I thought this was a really great idea and I would love to see more Rover Squires (and Knights!) working on their Project Badge by writing instructional/guide booklets for our Pathfinder section.  This is a great way to provide service not only to our Pathfinders, but to the BPSA overall!  If you are interested in working on such a project, you should probably post something first, just to be sure no one else is working on a reference for that particular badge you want to work on.

Yours in Scouting,

-Scott Moore

1st Lone Scouts RSL

I'm still working on mine . . . slowly.  I had far less time last summer than I thought I would.

I see that I proposed this project over four years ago and wrote that I had hoped to finish within a year and a half. Ha! When I was in graduate school, an older graduate student gave me sage advice: "If another grad student tells you how long something should take, multiply by three. If a professor tells you how long something should take, multiply by ten." Well, I'm a professor...

My life has had some major changes and interruptions in the last four years, but I finally have a tangible result, although not what was originally proposed. I had wanted to make an astronomy book and a planisphere. A planisphere (sometimes called a star wheel) is a star chart that can be set for any date and time. I learned the constellations using one and I still recommend them as the best tool to learn the constellations. (I've seen very few people learn the sky well with phone apps, by the way.) I now have the planisphere in final or near-final form.

I had initially thought that I could use existing software to plot out the part with the stars and constellations, and I tried, but all looked terrible, so I decided to program my own using a catalog of star positions and brightnesses. I needed to print star dots of different sizes (to indicate different brightnesses), to write text that would be curved and text oriented in different directions, and I needed to draw lines and circles. I settled on using Python with the PyX graphics library, which in turn makes use of the TeX typesetting system. I'm not a great programmer, so I had to learn a lot of Python along the way.

My code is more than 3000 lines, although around 1000 lines are just star positions and brightnesses. In theory, I can change one line of code and it will scale the stars and constellation and redraw the horizon curve appropriately. In practice, however, changing the latitude significantly requires a lot of tweaking of label positons to get it to look good (the stars and horizon line do change as desired). Label positions don't scale well since the text sizes aren't fixed. I decided to use 40 degrees north as the default. (Although a 40N planisphere will work fine for more southerly latitudes, making one for more southerly latitudes distorts constellation shapes unacceptably.)

All-in-all I estimate I have several hundred hours of work into this project. (I kept a log of my programming, but only included dates and not hours, and didn't include several dead ends in the process.) The result is wrapped up in a 7zip file that includes pdf files to print onto card stock and a transparency and instructions for assembly and use. I'm making a number for my group to try out and use. I'll try to post the 7zip file here, if Trailhead will let me. If not, send me a private message I can will email it to you.

I will also send you the source code if you would like to see it, but be warned, I'm a hack as a programmer, so please don't make ridicule me too much! ;-)

My GSM suggested that I stop with the planisphere as my project, and that I have more than enough work in it. (If you don't think so, please let me know soon--I want to honestly earn the project badge and not "sneak by.") I still want to write up the other information. If I do, and I do hope to, I will learn my lesson and write them up in a more piecemeal fashion, perhaps a number double-sided sheets, each on a different topic, that could be later assembled into a book or pamphlet. Maybe writing those up will be a Rover Quest.

I've copyrighted the result and explicitly allowed for copying for traditional scouting purposes. I would be happy to put it under a Creative Commons license, and will likely do so for a different version, but I didn't know if that was a good idea for the BPSA branded version. (I'm planning on making some differently branded ones for my local astronomy club to give out.)

If you're still reading this, I laud you for your perseverance. I'll end by mentioning some of the problems I encountered.

The mathematics of plotting the stars was fairly easy--even calculating the horizon line only took some simple coordinate transformations, which I found in Jean Meeus's Astronomical Algorithms.

Double stars were a big problem. The catalog often listed two separate stars that appeared as only one brighter star in the sky. I had to identify those and find the appropriate brightness and position.

Deciding how large to plot a star, based on its brightness, was more work than I thought. I tried making the diameter of the dot proportional to the brightness, making the area of the dot proportional to the brightness, making the diameter of the dot proportional to the logarithm of the brightness (effectively the negative of the magnitude), and making the area of the dot proportional to the logarithm of the brightness, and none of those worked well. I finally gave up on having a physical justification and just picked a function that seemed to work.

Deciding which constellation lines to use also took time. I used my experience running a planetarium and decided on a mix of the traditional lines and some of H.A. Rey's (the author of Curious George wrote a great book on the constellations that make some of them easier to visualize), and added in a few modifications of my own. I also had to program in all constellation lines. I made a constellation lines overlay for a planetarium program I use (Guide from Project Pluto) to test them out first.

The astronomical year doesn't align perfectly with the calendar year (which is why we have leap years) so I had to average the time of the vernal equinox over many years. There is no February 29 on the planisphere, but this introduces a minuscule error.

Making the wheel of months and dates around the edge look nice took a lot of time, but I expected that.

Label placement took a very long time. I tried to get all the labels where they were legible, clearly identified the correct constellation or star, and look good. Some, like the constellation Taurus, which is drawn in two parts, might still not be obvious.

Well, I could go on and on. Feel free to comment.

Yours in Traditional Scouting,

George

Here is the 7zip file.

Attachments:

Excellent write up, George!  Unfortunately, I'm traveling for the next two weeks and won't be on PC much, but I will check it out before the end of the month!

As far as changing the scope of your original proposal, I'm fine with that - part of the journey is experiencing the unexpected changes that come up along the way.  One thing I would like to see (if it's doable - you let me know) is some web links or book references for some of the topics you originally proposed, with the idea that they could be used by a Pathfinder looking to work on the Starman/Astronomy Proficiency Badge; kind of like a potential list of resources.  If you have some references you can easily recommend, great; if it will be too time-consuming and become a project in-and-of-itself, don't worry about it!

YiS,

-Scott

Thanks, Scott.  I will see what I can come up with.  I do want to write up more stuff, and a list of resources is high on the list.  It might take me a little while though, and that's a document that would change a lot.

George

Scott Moore said:

Excellent write up, George!  Unfortunately, I'm traveling for the next two weeks and won't be on PC much, but I will check it out before the end of the month!

As far as changing the scope of your original proposal, I'm fine with that - part of the journey is experiencing the unexpected changes that come up along the way.  One thing I would like to see (if it's doable - you let me know) is some web links or book references for some of the topics you originally proposed, with the idea that they could be used by a Pathfinder looking to work on the Starman/Astronomy Proficiency Badge; kind of like a potential list of resources.  If you have some references you can easily recommend, great; if it will be too time-consuming and become a project in-and-of-itself, don't worry about it!

YiS,

-Scott

Nice work George!

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