Inspired by the drive and passion of the astronomers from the GalileoMobile team, who travelled halfway around the world to inspire and stimulate children in the state of Karnataka, India, during the KhagolRath expedition, we set out from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics with a few humble ideas of our own to reach out to the wide-eyed young. As it was our first time embarking on a venture like this, we only targeted a small age group of 13 – 16 years old for our programme. We decided to visit M S Ramaiah Vidyaniketan, which is on the outskirts of Bangalore, on the 20th of July 2013. Ms. Hema Bharadwaj and Ms. Smitha Rao, who were formerly involved in KhagolRath, accompanied us as part of our team. Their experience and ideas were valuable in conducting the programme.
Our programme incorporated a one hour ‘Journey through the Solar System’, consisting of a talk with a compilation of video clips which start with an appreciation of the awe and beauty of our home planet. We then reached out on a search for life in the plains of Mars, and touched upon many more sojourns on a seemingly spectacular journey, before looking back at ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ through the eyes of Voyager. For the following half an hour we explained the motion of stars in the night-sky with the aid of the software ‘Stellarium’, and an array of DIY kits and demonstrations. Like a sailor sailed the seas in the dark ages relying merely on the starry sky as a guiding light for his long lonely months at sea, so were the students shown to navigate the world without the aid of modern tools. The kits which were shown were taken from several sources in the internet including Sky and Telescope, and they were given out to all the students in the form of a handy booklet with adjoining instructions, which they could play with and learn at their own leisure under the night-sky.
We took a 4-inch Newtonian reflector and a 3-inch refractor to show the salient features of a telescope even though the sky was bleak with the threat of a shower at any instant. A poster titled ‘Light and Telescopes’ was also used to illustrate basic concepts of light, lenses and mirrors. The joy and wonder expressed on a child’s face when they look through a telescope for the first time is incredible. Though the skies were overcast, the students at the school we visited were very excited just to be able to look through a telescope. Interaction sessions were conducted with the students to answer their queries. All these activities caught the attention of several students from lower grades and they too were curious to have a glimpse through the telescope and participate in the activities. We also received a request from one of the teachers to plan such activities for lower grade students too. On the whole, both the teachers and the students were very happy after the event. Our experience from the event was one of extreme satisfaction as we got an opportunity to rekindle our own passion for astronomy through the eyes of these students. Their unbridled enthusiasm and inquisitiveness was a reminder of our own drive for learning which has brought us here.
We are planning to visit more schools, especially in rural areas where the access to reliable educational resources are hard to come by. Although the romanticism of astronomy is always there in every child’s mind, the opportunities to learn and ponder over the heavens is blatantly understated in formal school curriculums. We had given feedback forms to the students and the teachers, which gave valuable insight into the questions that stimulated their minds, and which would help us improve in our endeavour. We are currently in the process of revamping our kits to include more illustrious demonstrations, renewing the talk to present a far more exciting journey and focusing on optical experiments with lasers which can assist a child’s imagination in creating an image of the working of a telescope. We hope that it will be as exciting a journey for us as it is for the children for the days to come.
Deep inside every child’s heart, there is a wish to know, a candle waiting to be lit, and to imagine the unimagined. And as he starts on his wonderful journey, he casts his open eyes to dreams yet unchained…
Avijeet Prasad and Avinash Surendran