Help Bring Astronomy to Children in East Africa

The international astronomy outreach group Astronomers Without Borders has launched a major crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, and they need your help. They are looking to raise $38,000 to fund a science center and observatory in East Africa to bring quality science education to the children of the area.

“It will be a game-changer for the region and a big project demonstrating the importance of astronomy education, including new curricula for teaching astronomy, teacher training, and more,” Mike Simmons, President and founder of AWB told Universe Today.

AWB has been actively working in this region since 2011 with their Telescopes to Tanzania project.

Simmons said Tanzanian students are often without textbooks and many basic educational resources and teacher training in science is often lacking.

“Providing the opportunity for people to get involved in this important project in East Africa is a perfect fit for Astronomers Without Borders’ motto, ‘One People, One Sky,'” he said.

After three years of making a difference in Tanzania by providing telescopes and teacher resources for schools, this new campaign goes even further, helping to provide a sustainable vision for the future and a pathway to success for the country’s youth.

Graph via Astronomer Without Borders.
Graph via Astronomer Without Borders.

The Center for Science Education and Observatory will provide astronomical and science training for both teachers and students. AWB said in a press release that by integrating astronomy into the national teaching curriculum, the center will be able to develop and circulate hands-on science and astronomy teaching resources to schools around the country. The center will also house hands-on laboratories, and an astronomical observatory with a portable planetarium, and internet connectivity so that connections can be made with science centers worldwide.

“We’re excited to be taking the next step in making this unique and innovative project a sustainable reality,” said Simmons. “The need is great and a lot has already been accomplished.”

To learn more about supporting The Center for Science Education and Observatory and Telescopes to Tanzania visit the Indiegogo campaign page at

Kids Book Review: “Beyond the Solar System”

It is probably a safe bet that even as children, Universe Today readers gazed at the night sky with awe and wonder. Did you wish upon the first star light, star bright in the sky? Cultures across time have spun tales around constellations – images projected on the night’s expanse based on our perceptions. As science and technology progressed we realized the vast depths of space are truly full of wonder. There’s an incredible array of amazing things to be discovered, researched and understood.

Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More; A History with 21 Activities by Mary Kay Carson is an informative and detailed book for both young and old alike. It is written for children and for the inquisitive child within us. The attention grabbing chapters span from space-time tricks and quasars to frothy galaxies. Even as an adult, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection.

Find out how you can win a copy of this book here!

The images within the chapters are well appointed. For example, at the beginning of the book during a journey from prehistory-1600 you’ll find a fantastic Library of Congress image of the Great Bear constellation, joined by the British Library’s ancient Chinese Star Map, that dates back to the 600’s A.D. This reviewer will definitely be trying some of the activities explained among the chapters such as “Make a 3-D Starscape” found on page 32. This craft project demonstrates the artificial grouping we’ve given our constellations and shows that they are actually comprised of stars great distances from each other and us.

Perhaps the best review of this book comes from my 8 year old daughter. For the past week, she has been reading this book in the car while travelling to school. A recent morning’s question from the back seat was “What’s a pulsar?” She’s excited to try all of the activities; first up will be making a radio picture found on page 82 or turning a friend into a pulsar by spinning them in a chair with two flashlights on page 89. In addition to her “two thumbs” up eagerness to read this every morning, she simply stated “I love this book.”

I extend a thank you to the author for creating a fun, educational STEM source that attracted not only the attention of my science oriented 14 year old boy, but also my daughter, who is as equally bright, capable and curious about the world around her.

Get Great Astronomy Apps and Support Astronomers Without Borders

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Celebrate the last two weeks of Global Astronomy Month and get a great price on the very popular SkySafari 3 apps for Apple and Android mobile devices and Mac OS X. Not only will you get an app that has been called a ‘game-changer’ for astronomy software, but during a special promotion, 30% of proceeds from all SkySafari sales will be donated to Astronomers Without Borders to support their wonderful programs.

All three versions of SkySafari 3 — Basic, Plus and Pro – are now at significant discounts, and if you’ve been considering purchasing SkySafari, now is the time, especially since you can support the great work of Astronomers Without Borders at the same time.

SkySafari 3 – $1.99 (regularly $2.99). 120,000 stars and 220 star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Solar system’s major planets and moons using NASA spacecraft imagery, 20 asteroids and comets.

SkySafari 3 Plus – $11.99 (regularly $14.99). Wired or wireless telescope control with accessories sold separately. 2.5 million stars, 31,000 deep sky objects (with entire NGC/IC catalog), over 4,000 asteroids, comets, and satellites.

SkySafari 3 Pro – $39.99 (regularly $59.99). Wired or wireless telescope control with accessories sold separately. 15 million stars (most of any astronomy app), 740,000 galaxies to 18th magnitude, over 550,000 solar system objects including every known comet and asteroid.

If you don’t need the SkySafari app, please consider donating to AWB.

Mike Simmons, who leads AWB, told Universe Today that this astronomy outreach organization really could use financial help.

“We do probably a half-million dollars in programs each year based on the hard work of passionate amateur astronomers and educators around the world,” he said, all on way less than $25,000 a year.

“This can’t be sustained, of course, and our programs — and everyone’s expectations of us — continue to grow,” Simmons wrote. “This is really, really important to us. 2012 presents many opportunities and we’re working on them. But we need to convert some of the passion we have in abundance to income to keep it going. If we can’t do it this year then I’m not sure we can do it in the future.”

Another way to help AWB is to purchase special eclipse glasses for the upcoming eclipse and the Venus transit – for which AWB has big plans for helping people around the world observe this very infrequent event.

Also, there is the a program allowing people to buy a quality small refractor and have a second one donated to a club or school in a developing country.

For more information, check out Astronomers Without Borders and the SkySafari 3 app sale, the eclipse glasses and the BOGO for a small refractor telescope for you and a needy school.

Thanks in advance for your support of a great organization!

An Enlightening Mosaic: Sunsets in 2011

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You’ve likely heard the phrase “axial tilt is the reason for the seasons” and here’s a great depiction of that axial axiom. A group of Italian amateur astronomers, the Gruppo Astronomico Tradatese (GAT), have been trying for a couple of years to take images of the Sun setting from the same location on the 21st of the month for several months in a row to show the link between the changing seasons and the movement of the Sun in our sky. The group specializes in outreach to schools and had a goal creating a mosaic of sunsets in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy. However, due to cloudy skies, they weren’t able to successfully obtain the sunset images until the second half of 2011.

“The availability of clear sky for seven dates around the 20-22 of each month starting from June was a crucial necessity,” Cesare Guaita, GAT President wrote to Universe Today. “Starting from 2009, we had to wait up to the second half of year 2011 for the right situation.”

These images of the Italian horizon at approximately 45°42’44” latitude and 8°55’52” longitude shows an Alpine mountain (Monte Rosa, 4634 m high) and trees changing in appearance with the changes of the season.

“As you can see, the sunset is located far away on the right of Rosa Mount at the summer solstice and far away on the left of the Rosa Mount at the winter solstice,” Guaita noted.

Each single picture is a mosaic of 2-3 frames, with the last picture (shown on top) taken on Dec 21, 2011 at 16:30 local time.

This would be a great project for any astronomy group or class. Congratulazioni to the members of the GAT, and we thank them for sharing their mosaic with Universe Today!

A Refreshing Idea! Vote for Enabling City Kids to See Starry Skies

Now here’s a refreshing idea: create a “dark sky oasis” in suburban locations where city-dwellers can gather to see the stars and learn about the night sky. The International Dark-Sky Association has proposed a project to bring access to the starry night to urban areas through the creation of Suburban Outreach Sites. To make this project a reality, the IDA needs your help, and all it takes is a click of your mouse. Every year the Pepsi Refresh project gives away tens of thousands of dollars in grants to improve communities. The IDA is competing for one of these grants and needs your vote!

A Suburban Outreach Site could be built right in your community. These will be safe, public places where people can gather to enjoy the night sky. Scott Kardel, the Public Affairs Director for the IDA told Universe Today that Suburban Outreach Sites will be easily accessible from US cities.

“They will offer a good place to stargaze (relative to the area) and will hold free events to bring celestial wonders to the young and old,” Kardel said. “Suburban Outreach Sites will educate the next generation of astronomers to keep looking up, and inspire them to use better lighting to save energy, conserve natural resources, and help wildlife.”

These sites will be created through a partnership between IDA and local astronomy clubs.

If funded the Pepsi Refresh grant will help IDA designate Suburban Outreach Sites around the USA.

“IDA will coordinate action with our Chapters and astronomy clubs to select a safe place with a beautiful nighttime atmosphere,” Kardel said. “IDA will create ‘fresh’ programming ideas and event coordination, and even offer free materials on how to dim city lights and bring back the stars.”

Projects are chosen by popular vote and people can vote every day in the month of December to help IDA bring the night sky.

You can support the IDA by voting here: http://www.refresheverything.com/citystarparks

Incredible ‘Space-O-Lanterns’

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When it comes to Halloween, there are some very creative people out there. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them, but I’ve been enjoying some incredible space-themed Jack-O-Lanterns that people on Twitter have been sharing. Above is an amazing re-creation of the Moon by astronomer and science writer Will Gater (@willgater) which shows the maria, craters and the rays from Tycho crater.

Below, a group of Space Tweeps got together and had a “Space-o-lantern” carving party: take a look!

'Gargarkin': Yuri Gargarin in Jack-o-lantern form by Rachel Hobson

Here’s Yuri Gagarin in intricate detail in the “Gargarkin” created by Rachel Hobson, @avgjanecrafter on Twitter. See more at Rachel’s blog, Average Jane Crafter

The STS-130 mission patch as a Jack-O-Lantern by Liz Warren.

Liz Warren (@spasmunkey) specializes in space-o-lanterns of various space shuttle mission patches. Above in the STS-130 patch and below is STS-120.

STS-120 Space-O-Lantern, carved by Liz Warren.
Saturn Space-O-Lantern by Jen Scheer.

And here’s a planetary pumpkin from Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny).

These creative Space Tweeps declared the First Ever World-Wide Space-O-Lantern Carving Day on October 28, 2011, and you can see more at their Flickr page. Create your own Space-O-Lanterns and upload to the group!

Spectacular Galaxies Dancing Towards Destruction

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More than just another pretty picture? I’ll say! This beautiful image of the galaxy pair NGC 6872 and IC 4970 was part of a competition for high school students in Australia to obtain scientifically useful (and aesthetically pleasing) images using the Gemini Observatory. The winners were students from the Sydney Girls High School Astronomy Club in central Sydney, who proposed that Gemini investigate these two galaxies that are embraced in a graceful galactic dance that, — as the team described in the essay to support their entry — “…will also serve to illustrate the situation faced by the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy in millions of years.”

We can only hope we look this pretty millions of years from now!

This image shows what happens when galaxies interact, and how the gravitational forces distort and tear away at their original structure. Spiral galaxies can have their arms elongate out to enormous distances: in NGC 6872, the arms have been stretched out to span hundreds of thousands of light-years—many times further than the spiral arms of our own Milky Way galaxy. Over hundreds of millions of years, NGC 6872’s arms will fall back toward the central part of the galaxy, and the companion galaxy (IC 4970) will eventually be merged into NGC 6872.

But that will be another pretty picture, as galaxy mergers often leads to a burst of new star formation. Already, the blue light of recently created star clusters dot the outer reaches of NGC 6872’s elongated arms. Dark fingers of dust and gas along the arms soak up the visible light. That dust and gas is the raw material out of which future generations of stars could be born.

Members of the SGHS Astronomy Club Executive Council receiving the Gemini image on behalf of the entire club. Photo credit: Australian Gemini Office.

Learn more about the contest and the winning team at this article on the Gemini website. Also, a new contest is underway for Australian students in 2011, and more details can be found at this link.

Source: Gemini Observatory