Communicating Astronomy with the Public 2010 - Day 2 (2010 Mar 16)
The second day of CAP2010 dawned over Cape Town with a howling south-easter. Undaunted, Ed and I had a seven o'clock americano at a street cafe as fortification for what lay ahead. Paging through the Cape Times revealed an article about dark sky awareness and the CAP2010 conference. Nice.
At the Ritz, proceedings started promptly at 09:00 with Dr Patricia Whitelock in the chair.
First up was Steve Owens, co-ordinator of the UK IYA2009 effort.
Owens gave an overview of the UK contribution, which was funded by a budget in excess of one-million pounds. Over 1,600 unique events were held, at more than 400 venues; an average of 14 events were held throughout the IYA.
A special UK project, "Telescopes for Schools", was co-ordinated by the Society for Popular Astronomy which saw the distribution of 1,000 70-mm refractors to schools across the UK, leading to the establishment of about 300 new astronomy clubs. Approximately 10,000 students (11-18yo) were reached.
A planetarium feature, "We are astronomers" (voiced by Dr Who himself) was shown in seven planetariums reaching half a million viewers.
Another major event was the mass observation of the Leonid meteor shower; some 10,000 participants took part in the "world's first mass participation meteor star party", which enjoyed wide national media coverage.
Second on the programme for the day was Jim Hesser (National Research Council of Canada) with "Footsteps to the Future: IYA Outcomes in Canada".
He summarised the broad Canadian IYA theme as creating "Galileo moments", offering engaging astronomy experiences to all.
He noted that underserved communities existed in Canada: those in the inner city, those in rural areas, and aboriginal first nations, Inuit and the Metis. A special production, "Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters" was created, exploring 'celestial motions of high cultural significance'. The production was used in five provinces for education and promoting environmental science.
He also announced the "Stories of the Night Sky" initiative, a national project open to all of Canada's aboriginal youth, to gather night sky stories using technology.
Overall, Hesser noted that Canada fielded '3,600 registered events, 1.93 million Galileo Moments, and media exposure to millions'.
Next up was Dr Lee Seo-Gu (Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute), describing the IYA activities in the republic of Korea. During the year, 410 programs were hosted and 11.7 million people were reached.
Deliverables included 202 public lectures, 4 books, 81 exhibitions, 15 concerts and 7 conferences. Media efforts included 40 press releases, 2,485 media coverage opportunities and 248 publications (121 online, 127 old media).
Lee noted that four groups made their efforts a success: amateur astronomers, undergraduate students, government financial aid (US$70,000) and a group of statesmen.
He also described a fascinating poll, conducted by computer-aided telephone interviews. The sample of 1,011 subjects, resident in major cities in Korea, ranged in age from 19 to 59. Equal numbers of males and females were polled. The first poll was early in December 2008, and the second poll was held a year later. The results of the poll will appear in the conference proceedings.
In closing, Dr Lee remarked that on-line (internet-based) projects were more efficient than off-line ones, and that on-line content should be updated regularly. However, he stressed that people were more impressed by a face-to-face program.
The fourth presentation was by Mariana Espinosa (Institute of Astronomy, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico).
She described the growth of their Public Information Office (established in 2006) and documented the development of collaborative pro-am astronomy efforts in the years leading up to the IYA.
She detailed several Mexican projects and presented fascinating statistics describing the Reto Mexico project; amongst others the fact that 1,060 women but 2,433 men registered for the event. The age distribution was bi-modal, with peaks at the intervals 11-15 yo, and 36-40yo.
She added that a second "Night of the Stars" is schedules for 2010 April 17.
After the morning coffee break, Prof Steven Tingay (International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin Univ. Tech., Australia) addressed the gathering.
Tingay spoke on "Communicating astronomy via engagement with Australian indigenous artists", describing the fascinating Ilgarijiri (things belonging to the sky) project.
This project involved the Wadjari Yamatji, the indigenous groups who are the traditional owners of the land in Western Australia where Australia proposes the core of the SKA be built.
As a result of the project, some 800 indigenous people of all ages were exposed to information on astronomy and science, in particular radio astronomy.
In turn, some 4,300 non-indigenous people were exposed directly to information on indigenous astronomical knowledge by attending special exhibitions of the art created by the indigenous people. Several of these pieces were exhibited at the rear of the conference room (see below).
The online gallery can be visited at
Local astrophysicist Dr Chris Engelbrecht (U.Johannesburg) spoke next: "Blending Bush and Stars: The SkyRanger Course".
Engelbrecht noted the imbalance between the number of tourists to ZA (a few million) and the number of people skilled to conduct astro-tourism (a few hundred).
He developed the SkyRanger course to train about 1,000 nature communicators who work in game reserves, and described the course contents as well as his rationale for choosing the material. It certainly sounds most impressive: he noted that after the three-day course, each trainee is able to find, for example, the Sombrero galaxy in a Dobsonian telescope. Good stuff.
Next up was John Goldsmith (Ph.D. student at ICRAR, Curtin Univ. Tech., Australia), who spoke on "Cosmos, Culture and Landscape: Learning and sharing indigenous sky knowledge".
He characterised Australian indigenous culture as being an ancient, continuous entity; contemporary and dynamic; diverse; and using oral transmission to transfer traditional knowledge.
The methodology for his research includes three quantitative surveys and a series of in-depth interviews. I asked him what insights from psychological measurement theory would be employed (since he plans to make quantitative measures). He replied that "The Sky in Our Lives" assessment tool, developed by Jarita Holbrooke, would be used. I'd like to find out more about this, and what the psychometric properties of the tool are.
Goldsmith noted that indigenous astronomical knowledge is being shared and communicated in many ways, including aboriginal art, exhibitions/galleries, films, cultural tours, symposia and through planetariums.
The final talk before lunch was by SAAO staffer Sivuyile Manxoyi (who shares my birthday!).
Sivuyile spoke on communicating astronomy to an African community, and used the SAAO outreach to Langa as a test case to develop ideas.
He crystallised several points: communication should be personal; contacts with political, traditional and religious figures should be made, including the police forum; collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers, students and fraternal organisations, should be fostered; context is important - know your audience and take advantage of local and national events; use cultural astronomers to assert that your audience and their ancestors have long been involved in astronomy; be creative; align your activities as much as possible to the school curriculum; use simple and accessible materials; and set up structures to sustain the project and develop resources.
To evaluate the success of outreach efforts, he suggested tracking learners from these schools; monitoring the use of books at the libraries; monitoring the enquiries made to the SAAO; monitoring visitors to the Open Nights; and conduct focused interviews with some of the participants.
After lunch (during which I unavoidably missed Carolina's lunch-time discussion) Dr Pamela Gay (Southern Illinois Univ., USA) spoke on "Digital Dialogues: Listening to the Public Communicate Back".
Gay discussed three case studies: the "365 Days of Astronomy podcast", Galaxy Zoo, and the use of Twitter.
She showed examples of how astronomy outreach has been implemented in Second Life, including the award-winning Dark-Skies "Let There Be Night" Project.
She encouraged participants to "maintain the digital legacy of IYA into the future" (send off an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for details).
Then it was the turn of Valeria Cappelli (Italian Nat. Inst. Astrophysics)
Cappelli introduced us to the delightful characters Phineas and Ferb, and their amazing journey to the Moon.
This project, running from May 2009 to June 2010, has already reached 30,000 children and has been seen in 25 science centres, museums and observatories.
She also demonstrated a most attractive Moon game, stressing the three "S"s to communicate with children: Simplicity, Synthesis, and Stylistics.
Next up was Megan Argo on the well-known Jodcast, the podcast of the Jodrell Bank Observatory (U.Manchester).
Argo was followed by New Yorker Cameron Hummels (Columbia University, USA). Hummels.
Hummels' rapid-fire "Urban Astronomy: Outreach in the Big Apple" resonated well with the experiences Ed and I have had over the past several years.
Hummels outlined Columbia University's astronomy outreach project, noting that they held 40 events in 2009, with 15,000 attendees, run by about 15 graduate and undergraduate students, at university and in public locations.
Answering "How did we do it?" he bulleted: plan events that utilise the benefits of your urban location; harness enthusiasm of student workers; apply for free educational materials to give away to attendees; build a website as an advertising base; and ensure a strong organization - don't waste the audience's time.
Their activities include: public lectures and stargazing; family activities; sidewalk astronomy; web lessons and recorded lectures; astrophotography photo exhibition; and micro-lectures.
A micro-lecture is a short (3-5 minute) talk given in public locations (subway, public parks, sidewalk, etc.). In essence, you jump up and suddenly start talking astronomy. This I have to try. If religious nuts can walk around Stellenbosch sprouting the Bible at innocent passer's-by, and live to tell the tale, then I think we've got a fair chance.
More about the Columbia effort at
Then it was time for the last tea break. On the way out, I noticed some doodles:
After tea, Juan Pardo (Spain) presented his enthralling "Eine Kleine Astronomische Musik - mixing live music, literature and astronomy".
As with Jose Francisco Salgado's talk yesterday, this is one you have to listen to, rather than read about. Gripping stuff.
Next up was Anita Heward (Europlanet Research Infrastructure, UK).
Heward described the Europlanet initiative, and then moved on to their efforts to communicate planetary science to the public.
Their three main goals are: to support the outreach community by developing new, innovative projects to engage European citizens with planetary science; to Europeanise planetary science news stories in the media (it's not just NASA!); and to change the culture of the planetary science community towards outreach activities.
The second-last presentation for the day was by Delia Santiago (NASA Lunar Science Institute, USA).
After describing the work of the NLSI (a virtual institute supporting Moon-related scientific research), she delved into their EPO efforts, including the upcoming Moon Zoo project. (I was gripped by her comments on awe - "that which engages someone".)
The final talk of the day was by Dr Kentaro Yaji (Rikkyo U., Japan), on the Hinode satellite.
An animated speaker, Yaji outlines the Hinode project and demonstrated its advanced imaging capabilities. He also outlined the Hinode educational DVD, which includes material for all ages of school goers.
He noted finally that Hinode data is available online, at
After final closing remarks, the poster session was held, and then it was time for the long commute home. And an early night.
nothing more to see. please move along.