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Thread: Public Knowledge of Constellations

  1. #1
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    Public Knowledge of Constellations

    Have surveys been conducted to measure the knowledge of the general public about visual astronomy?

    For example, what percentage of people could identify Orion, Sirius, Taurus and other major bright stars and constellations?

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    I did a small survey with a sailor friend to see how many knew the moon period. Turned out only scouts did. And they forgot how to tell waxing from waning. My guess in cities where seeing stars is an effort, knowledge is very poor. Years ago we did one term on astronomy, made star cones, a model of the solar system to scale, that kind of thing, very rare today.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    To my knowledge there have been no such surveys, but I'll bet general awareness is poor.

    Myself, I can barely identify the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt by eye anymore! I'm ashamed to admit that on an astronomy site. I've lost the rest to the ravages of time.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I did a small survey with a sailor friend to see how many knew the moon period. Turned out only scouts did.
    That's interesting. The scouts I was involved in retrieving from a nocturnal Scottish bog many years ago had contrived to get "lost" in an east-west glen under clear starlit skies. We walked them back to the hostel without even glancing at a compass.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I used to hang out with scouts. Their awareness is rather good, but highly varied because they pick and choose program types based on their knowledge base. What I notice is if they like language, history, or D&D they know their individual stars. If they like technology, they tend to know the constellations. The odd ones that like music or performance are good "sky guides" and link the other two types together.

    It's interesting because age and background doesn't matter much, it's all on what the kid brings to scouts and not the other way around. The scout programs do have information to assist with that exploring interest.
    Solfe

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    I would imagine the number of jewelry products on Etsy based on constellations might have enlightened a few people.
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    Based on my own discussions with people over the years, I suspect the knowledge among the general public is very poor.

    As far as identifying objects in the sky, other than the Moon, the Big Dipper, and the Milky Way (if they live in an area where they can see it), people are generally poor at identifying things.

    I did find this survey on general astronomy knowledge.
    Abstract
    A scientifically literate society is important for many different reasons, some of which include democratic and scientific topics. This study was performed in order to identify topics in astronomy and science in general that may not be well understood by the general public. Approximately 1,000 adults at a popular science museum in Philadelphia, PA completed True/False survey questions about basic astronomy concepts. The participants were also asked to provide their age, gender, and highest degree obtained. Although 93 ± 0.8% of the participants correctly answered that scientists can calculate the age of the Earth, only 58 ± 2% provided the correct response that scientists can calculate the age of the Universe. Some participants (30 ± 1%) responded that scientists have found life on Mars. Females scored an average total score of 78 ± 2%, whereas males scored an average 85 ± 1%. Participants with an age of 56 and over had an average score of 78 ± 4% compared to participants under the age of 56 that were found to have an average score of 82 ± 2%. Lastly, participants’ highest degree obtained scaled with number of correct responses, with graduate level degree earners providing the largest amount of correct responses and an average score of 86 ± 2%.
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    Despite having some interest, I've never learned constellations beyond a few basics. I can at least find Polaris via the pointers on Ursa Major and Sirius because it trots along behind Orion. Good doggy!
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    I would imagine the number of jewelry products on Etsy based on constellations might have enlightened a few people.
    In a life full of gaffs, one of my worst was the day when my friend's new girlfriend showed off the zodiacal pendant he'd just given her for her birthday. Instead of simply making appreciative noises, I said: "Oh, you're a Cancer". No, she was a Pisces and he'd bought her the wrong symbol. (I'd long since learned the zodiacal symbols, but had no interest in the corresponding dates, which would of course have provided the hint to keep my mouth shut.)

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Despite having some interest, I've never learned constellations beyond a few basics. I can at least find Polaris via the pointers on Ursa Major and Sirius because it trots along behind Orion. Good doggy!
    I've volunteered for a fair number of astronomy programs over the years and a lot of them seem to emphasize IDing constellations and discussing the mythology of them. While that's fine, and is interesting from a historic and anthropology perspective, I actually don't consider it particularly important (and I recognize I probably hold a minority opinion among naturalists, interpreters, natural history professionals, and astronomy educators).

    I find it much more distressing when people don't understand things like the sun is a star, the differences among a solar system, a galaxy, and the universe, how old the solar system is, or how the seasons come about, than the fact that they can't pick out Cygnus or Cassiopeia.
    At night the stars put on a show for free (Carole King)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I find it much more distressing when people don't understand things like the sun is a star, the differences among a solar system, a galaxy, and the universe, how old the solar system is, or how the seasons come about, than the fact that they can't pick out Cygnus or Cassiopeia.
    Don't ask me the difference in appearance between Canes Venatici and Antila the Pump.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    In a life full of gaffs, one of my worst was the day when my friend's new girlfriend showed off the zodiacal pendant he'd just given her for her birthday. Instead of simply making appreciative noises, I said: "Oh, you're a Cancer". No, she was a Pisces and he'd bought her the wrong symbol. (I'd long since learned the zodiacal symbols, but had no interest in the corresponding dates, which would of course have provided the hint to keep my mouth shut.)

    Grant Hutchison
    My daughter, a police officer, spent a while stopping suspicious cars where thieves routinely give false birthdates. She memorised the constellations, so she could follow up with “so what star sign are you?” On the basis that everyone knows their own birth sign but very few know any other dates.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    My daughter, a police officer, spent a while stopping suspicious cars where thieves routinely give false birthdates. She memorised the constellations, so she could follow up with “so what star sign are you?” On the basis that everyone knows their own birth sign but very few know any other dates.
    Though that’s not really related to the topic, because the question is about visual astronomy, I’m intrigued by the background. Why do thrives give false birthdays, and why do police officers ask that? Is it because they use fake driver’s licenses to try to hide their identity to avoid being ID’d from a database?


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  14. #14
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    And responding to the question, I also suspect it is poor. When I was 15 years old and a scout, I could identify quite a number. But now I’m like many others. I can identify the dippers and Orion and Cassiopeia and Aquila but that’s about it.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Though that’s not really related to the topic, because the question is about visual astronomy, I’m intrigued by the background. Why do thrives give false birthdays, and why do police officers ask that? Is it because they use fake driver’s licenses to try to hide their identity to avoid being ID’d from a database?


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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    My daughter, a police officer, spent a while stopping suspicious cars where thieves routinely give false birthdates. She memorised the constellations, so she could follow up with “so what star sign are you?” On the basis that everyone knows their own birth sign but very few know any other dates.
    I don't know about elsewhere, but it was easier to alter a real NY driver's licence than completely create a new one. Changing just two digits by one in each the year and the month could give you 23 months of change or very close to two years. When you're close to the age for purchasing alcohol, months count more than years. If you're 20 it's not terribly helpful to change that to 30 because no one would believe it.

    For the officer, they want to wedge unrelated information into the conversation for a variety of reasons. You can deescalate rapidly by simply stating, "I'm a capricorn, too." or "My birthday is next month, too." Detecting a child trying to buy alcohol back in 1988 was so much less threatening than dealing with someone who had a completely "valid" ID under a fake identity. The difference was dealing with a crying kid as opposed to a long game of cat and mouse with someone who could be really dangerous. Back in the 80's if you altered an ID the consequences was having to pick up your altered ID with your mom at the police station. Obviously, if the officer was dealing with a person who had a reason to have an altered identity (as opposed to chalking an ID), things could escalate rather quickly.

    Recent stories about altered ID is either an urban legend based on what used to happen or something far more serious than trying to trick a store clerk or bouncer at a bar. How the police identify you is wildly different now-a-days vs. the the thumb, tongue and eyeball method of 30-40 years ago. (Hacks would use chalk. I used oil paint with a layer of prismatic transparent paint. It worked well, but that might be too much information. I have some hilarious stories about forging things. I still have the skills, but tend to focus on creating authentic looking maps and letters for role playing games.)

    Anyway, back to the thread topic at hand. My wife joined a girl scout troop that was completely interested in the shop experience in various major cities. Ironically, she can also name individual stars and constellations like most children speak of comic book heroes. I was utterly flummoxed by these two details until she mentioned her uncle. When I met him, he introduced himself as "a geologist". Actually he is a former astronomer who went back to school because he is a morning person. Can't stay up past 9 pm. He is an absolute treasure, because he's working prepping on a second generation of nieces and nephews for basic astronomy. I guess they would collectively be grand children and grand nephews and nieces." I've had a long day and can't work out the relationships titles in English.

    Personally, I wonder if the stars can't be worked in as a memory enhancer for historical information. See the star, remember the culture, the myth or the reality of other people.

    I would be remiss if I didn't plug the fit of Astronomy Cast shows that told the historical astronomical observations and legends of different cultures and linked those stories to the modern breakthroughs in astronomy done in those regions. I really do love it when Pamala and Fraser hit a historical topic. I'd give you a link to the shows, but the archive seems to be hidden on the website or I just can't find it after a long day.
    Solfe

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    I do recall nights where the constellation of Triangulum looked like it was pretty much everywhere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selenite View Post
    I do recall nights where the constellation of Triangulum looked like it was pretty much everywhere.
    Any three stars.....
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

  18. #18
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    With me, everything looked like Jupiter and Saturn close together. Other than the Big Dipper and Orion, the Taurus V...I’m clueless.
    The astronomy course didn’t push it with cards, just stellar chemistry.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Though that’s not really related to the topic, because the question is about visual astronomy, I’m intrigued by the background. Why do thrives give false birthdays, and why do police officers ask that? Is it because they use fake driver’s licenses to try to hide their identity to avoid being ID’d from a database?


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    yes, fake or stolen. The birthdate is coded into the number on UK licences.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Selenite View Post
    I do recall nights where the constellation of Triangulum looked like it was pretty much everywhere.
    When I was active at a amateur club the observatory had a homebuilt telescopes that was mostly manual (motorised 1a-xis EQ mount, so-so digital push-to circles that you couldn´t quite trust and no goto). The standard joke was to give directions for the person at the eyepiece (doing the star hopping) to "go up until you run into three stars in the shape of a triangle". You heard something like that at least a couple of times per night.

  21. #21
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    I use Casseiopia to find the Andromeda Galaxy.
    Like the loot in "It's a Mad Mad Mad World", it's under the big W.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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