The range of programs and exhibits planned for the IDSDC is extensive and the list of ideas keeps growing. While the facility will focus on education in space-related science and the importance of dark skies, there are anticipated uses that will fall outside that scope, particularly in the multi-use Inspiration Theater that could be rented by various groups and organizations. The following is a partial list of plans for how the facility will be used:
Partnerships with universities
There are no observatories with large, research-grade telescopes in the Phoenix area. While students at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff have those facilities nearby, Arizona State University, the largest university in the country and the extensive Maricopa County Community College System do not. College students could learn how to use a large telescope, conduct research, and attend classes and lectures on sub-specialty areas of astronomy. ASU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute could offer courses for adults at the facility. Observatory Control Room 13
Partnerships with high schools
High Schools have advanced placement programs, some of which focus on space science. Those students could be taught how to use an observatory and attend astronomy-related lectures. Some local high school students having an intense interest could be given extended access to the Dark Sky Observatory and teach other students. The local high school principal has already expressed interested in adding an AP Capstone program based on astronomy using the IDSDC.
Visits by middle schools and high schools
The facility can easily accommodate school groups by dividing the students into separate but simultaneous activities: planetarium show, Immersion Zone tour, theater presentation, and viewing of the Dark Sky Observatory.
Tours and visits by area residents and tourists
The facility’s many offerings will be an attraction for area residents and tourists from around the world. There will be special shows and presentations in the Inspiration Theater and Hyperspace Planetarium. The Immersion Zone will be interactive and engaging. Viewing through the very large telescope is always a great experience and will encourage people to attend a star party. Astronomy Magazine hosted a 9-day tour of Arizona’s astronomy-related facilities in May 2019. This is just one specific example of a visit that would occur if the facility were completed.
There are no astronomy camps in Arizona’s largest metropolitan area even though Arizona is known as the astronomy state. This is currently an unmet need. For people in the Phoenix area, attending an IDSDC astronomy camp would be less costly and more convenient than attending one in Tucson or Flagstaff. In addition, people from out of state attending conventions or visiting the Phoenix area might also choose to take advantage of a local astronomy camp.
Star parties already attract a large number of people on a regular basis. These would continue, but the attraction of a very large telescope would certainly increase attendance. Additional telescopes on wheels would be rolled out adjacent to the observatory so that multiple stellar objects can be viewed.
Astronomy on Tap
This is a nationwide movement in the astronomy community. On a regular basis (perhaps monthly), attendees gather to have a craft beer while listening to an astronomy-related lecture. At times, this can be done in conjunction with star parties if desired.
Other Inspiration Theater Activities
Fountain Hills does not have an appropriate tiered-seating auditorium that can serve multiple purposes. Organizations such as the Chamber, Fountain Hills Library, and the Town have already expressed interest in using the auditorium. Some conferences currently being held in Fountain Hills would be interested. Ideas, such as groups wanting to show arthouse movies, is just one of many that have been suggested. Many other ideas will undoubtedly surface.
The Immersion Zone will be interactive and engaging, but it also needs to be continually updated. Exhibit design competitions among university and/or high school groups could be held with the winner or winners winning a monetary prize and having their exhibit displayed for a period of time. In addition, traveling exhibits are available that would add new displays on a regular basis. 15
There are various subspecialty interests in astronomy. One such interest is astrophotography and the Greater Phoenix area as well as Fountain Hills have some accomplished astrophotographers. Classes could be given, access to the large telescope could be offered, and outstanding photos could be displayed. Some photos could be offered for sale.
The dark skies of Fountain Hills combined with a very large telescope will be of great interest to both students and adults having a passion for exploring the universe. The Dark Sky Observatory will join existing research projects (such as the RECON network funded by NASA and administered by the Southwest Research Institute) to study asteroids in support of current and future space missions. This research is already being conducted by Fountain Hills residents and will be greatly enhanced with the addition of a large telescope. Demonstrating Fountain Hills’ dark skies, an amateur astronomer named Charles Juels, discovered over 400 new asteroids with his back-yard telescope in Fountain Hills. As a result, there is even an asteroid now named Fountain Hills.
Renting the facility for parties, receptions, and corporate events is common practice in museums across the country and is an activity representing a great opportunity for the IDSDC.