Jennifer: Celebrating the International Year of Astronomy is the perfect opportunity to educate adults and children alike about our planet’s night skies, and what exists beyond. In Western Australia, the event is being exploited to its full educational and interest-igniting potential.
Perth’s Scitech Discovery Centre kicked off the 2009 festivities with the purchase of a spanking new portable planetarium. As a Scitech Outreach Presenter, I am lucky enough to operate this mobile night sky, and know it to be an incredibly effective tool in encouraging interest in astronomy.
Children gasp and laugh as they set eyes upon the ceiling-high black igloo which has sprouted smack-bang in the middle of their school library. They push their way through the inflated entrance, expecting either an anti-gravity chamber or a jumping castle. Indeed, they often abandon their single-file formation upon entering and use the ingress to engage in anti-gravity chamber and jumping castle activities. When the interior lamp is extinguished, the Spacedome is plunged into darkness. The audible gasps from its occupants as the twinkling stars become visible on the screen above are proof enough of their captivating power.
The Spacedome takes both lower and upper school children on a star-tour through time, beginning at sunset and ending as the sun rises on the ecliptic. As we travel, we become familiar with Alpha and Beta Centauri, the South Celestial Pole, the Crux, Orion and numerous other constellations, or “dot-to-dots in the stars”. All children love listening to stories, and the astronomical mythology behind the constellations adds an enchanting story-telling element.
This year, star-gazing is not reserved for telescope owners. The 2009 celebrations are changing the perception that it is a pass-time only for professional astronomers. Horizon, Perth’s planetarium, is engaging Western Australians in a range of gratuitous activities at various locations throughout the state. Telescopes are assembled by Horizon and Scitech staff, however participants are encouraged to operate and manipulate the telescopes themselves. If you live in Western Australia, or are planning to visit us in the next few weeks, then here are some dates for the diary:
Celestial Tastings – Lamonts – 26, 27, 28 March
Located in the Swan Valley, Lamonts Winery is far enough from the Perth city lights for one to appreciate the vastness of the Western Australian skies. Sky-watching will be possible all evening through telescopes staffed by professional communicators from Scitech.
Observing on the Oval – Halls Head Primary School – 31 March
An observing event for school students and their families from the surrounding community. Big scopes, big sky, big crowd.
The following events celebrate ‘100 Hours of Astronomy’; a 100-hour, round-the-clock, world-wide venture taking place from the April 2-5. Several celestial bodies, including Saturn and our Moon, will be ideally placed for observation.
‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ – Space Pirates at Little Creatures – April 2
The very popular Fremantle brewery hosts Perth’s kick-off event.
‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ – Big Scopes at the Beach – City of Perth Life Saving Club – April 3
I personally recommend this experience, if only for the beautiful view of the horizon from the back of the surf club.
‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ – Primary Science Conference – The Vines Resort – April 4
An observing event for teachers attending the Primary Science Conference.
‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ – Big Scopes in Busselton – Somewhere in Busselton – April 5
Scitech heads south to visit the town of Busselton, where the celestial sights of the Western Australian night sky will be visible in all their glory.
‘100 Hours of Astronomy’ is the single largest astronomical event taking place during 2009. That over four entire days, people from all over the world will be gazing at the sky, is an inspiring realisation.
Last year, had someone asked me, I would have had trouble making out the Southern Cross in the night sky. Since the launch of the International Year of Astronomy, I have developed a somewhat broader knowledge of the celestial bodies that scintillate above and a fascination therewith. Last week, I was lying on the back of a truck in the middle of the Western Australian wheatbelt and I identified this fairly prominent constellation, otherwise known as the Crux, with no trouble at all. Admittedly, I was lucky enough to have the use of both a SkyScout and a green laser. The former is a very cool application of GPS technology; a handheld device that guides its user in locating and identifying stars, planets and constellations. The light of the latter, with its range of approximately 2600 metres, is an awesome sight as it streaks across the sky.
Our universe embodies many incredible and often incomprehensible concepts. Did you know, that if you venture too close to a black hole, its gravity could tidally stretch your body into a strand of spaghetti? And that light from far-away stars takes so long to reach Earth that when we look at them we are essentially gazing hundreds to millions of years back in time?
In 1609, Galileo looked into space using a telescope for the first time. 400 years on, I looked into space using a SkyScout for the first time. The accessible technologies of 2009 render such activities practicable. And this being the International Year of Astronomy, we have the perfect excuse to get excited about using them.