Celebrating Cosmic Light around the world

Cosmic Light is a program launched by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) celebrating the International Year of Light 2015 (IYL 2015). Invited by the IYL 2015 Steering Committee to organise activities under the Cosmic Light theme for IYL2 015, the IAU recognised the importance of light for astronomy and provided full support to the idea that technology leading to greater energy efficiency is key to the preservation of dark skies.

In the beginning of 2015, following a public call that gathered many high quality educational and outreach proposals from around the world, the IAU identified several key projects — the Cosmic Light cornerstone projects — that within the framework of IYL 2015 are making the difference in people’s awareness of the problems caused by light pollution and the importance of understanding our Universe through cosmic light.

Logo for the Cosmic Light program - an International Astronomical Union project within the framework of International Year of Light 2015.

Logo for the Cosmic Light program – an International Astronomical Union project within the framework of International Year of Light 2015.

The Galileoscope

One of the programs supported by IAU Cosmic Light is the Galileoscope – a high-quality, low-cost telescope kit developed by a team of astronomers and science educators. Created in 2009, during the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), the Galileoscope tries to provide a sustainable approach to a long-standing problem: the lack of a high-quality, low-cost telescope kit suitable for both optics education and celestial observation.

With this easy-to-assemble kit, educators can see and share with their audiences the celestial wonders that Galileo Galilei first glimpsed over 400 years ago, including lunar craters and mountains, four moons orbiting Jupiter, the phases of Venus, Saturn’s rings, and countless stars invisible to the naked eye. The telescope is also supported by free, standards-based optics-education and observing activities, available in multiple languages. These tested activities can be used by classroom and after-school teachers as well as informal educators providing a rigorous approach to teaching science and the process of science.

Through an effort managed entirely by volunteers, nearly 240,000 Galileoscope kits have been produced and partially distributed in more than 100 countries and used for science teaching and public outreach. Since its inception, the Galileoscope project has facilitated gifts to teachers and students who might otherwise not have access to a telescope. During the IYA2009, 7,000 kits were donated through a buy-one-give-one program and distributed to educators throughout Africa and the Middle East. For IYL 2015, generous contributions support the distribution of 10,000 more Galileoscopes to science educators in the United States, and most of the 30,000 specially produced for IYL 2015 have already been claimed around the world.

School children visiting the IAU XXIX General Assembly in 2015 with their Galileoscopes, being produced as part of the International Year of Light. Credit: IAU/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

School children visiting the IAU XXIX General Assembly in 2015 with their Galileoscopes, being produced as part of the International Year of Light. Credit: IAU/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

According to Rick Fienberg, Galileoscope project leader, the International Year of Light and Cosmic Light program boosted new life to the Galileoscope project. From just a few thousand shipped since 2009, in 2015 alone, around 15,000 were already shipped. This renewed interest and visibility to the project allows students to receive once again free telescope kits, thanks to the generous donations to support science education.

The special IYL-branded kits are available for purchase and donation through the Telescopes4Teachers program and also available on Galileoscope website.

Light: Beyond the Bulb exhibition

Light: Beyond the Bulb is an open-source international exhibition programme, designed to showcase the incredible variety of light-based scientific research being done today. The original idea was based on an award-winning “proof of concept” platform “From Earth to the Universe” from the IYA2009.

International Year of Light exhibition Light: Beyond the Bulb banners on display in the lobby of the Honolulu Convention Centre, host venue of the IAU XXIX General Assembly. Credit: IAU/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org).

International Year of Light exhibition Light: Beyond the Bulb banners on display in the lobby of the Honolulu Convention Centre, host venue of the IAU XXIX General Assembly. Credit: IAU/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org).

The free exhibition materials and striking images have been crowd-sourced and curated by experts for their scientific content, high-quality printability, stunning beauty and ability to engage the wider public audience. Placing inspiring images of current science topics in publicly accessible spaces allows for a larger reach of viewers than in formal venues for science education and communications alone.

As of August 2015, Light: Beyond the Bulb’s project manager Kimberly K. Arcand reported that about 600 exhibits in 30 different countries have been registered or displayed, organized and hosted by local volunteers and can be found in parks, airports, cafes, galleries and many other kinds of public spaces throughout 2015. Locations include such diverse places as on the National Mall, Washington, DC, US; the Galway Astronomy Festival, Galway, Ireland; the St. Ignatius College and Luqa Primary School in Luqa, Malta; the Simón Bolivar Planetarium in Maracaibo, Venezuela; the Christchurch International Airport in Christchurch, New Zealand; and the Shanghai Nanhui Senior High School in Shanghai Pudong New Area, China. And many more will and still are being exhibited around the world.

Cosmic Light Awareness

Cosmic Light Awareness focuses on involving schools around the globe through three main project components:

Dark Sky Meter App

The Dark Sky Meter app supports the understanding of our dark skies and their preservation for future generations. This is a free app in which the user can get instant information about the night sky quality and contribute directly to science in global citizen science programs such as Globe at Night. So far the app has gathered 2,900 users and registered 17,100 measurements, reported project leader Pedro Russo.

You can download Dark Sky Meter App for your iPhone here.

A young visitor at the Honolulu Convention Centre, host venue of the IAU XXIX General Assembly learns that fighting light pollution can be fun. Credit: IAU OAO/ Lina Canas.

A young visitor at the Honolulu Convention Centre, host venue of the IAU XXIX General Assembly learns that fighting light pollution can be fun. Credit: IAU OAO/ Lina Canas.

Cosmic Light EDU kit

With Cosmic Light EDU kit, teachers have access to a virtual kit that gathers many activities, tools and other resources on the topic of the science of light. This kit features continued support for teaching communities around the world. Project leader Rosa Doran, says the Cosmic Light EDU kit aims to be a one-stop shop for educators. Its mission is to support the promotion of workshops around the globe related to light and its importance as a cosmic source of awareness. The vision is that this initiative will sparkle the interest of different audiences to speak the language of the Universe. The project received more than 140 workshop proposals to be implemented between July 2015 and April 2016. More than 40 countries will be using the 50 free light based educational resources and activities featured by Cosmic Light EDU kit. And 150 Cosmic Light EDU kit goodie packets for organisers will be shipped from the Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO) to around the world to support the initiative’s success.

Quality Lighting Teaching Kit

The Quality Lighting Teaching Kit will increase student and public awareness of quality lighting issues through online tutorials, teaching kits, and hands-on activities. The programme along with 100 kits will be disseminated to formal and informal audiences worldwide. Project leader Constance Walker, comments on the project: Designed around problem-based learning scenarios, the six Quality Lighting Teaching kit activities allow middle school students to address real light pollution problems that relate to wildlife, the night sky, aging eyes, energy consumption, safety and light trespass and apply their solutions to their city of the future.

Through this set of worldwide programmes, the IAU have successfully reached and engaged a large number of communities, raising awareness of the need to minimise light pollution and to have a better understanding of the universe. Even now, as 2015 draws close to an end, IAU continues to launch the challenge to worldwide communicators to join this amazing global celebration. Since the programme was carefully designed and oriented to be sustainable – Cosmic Light will continue to shine well beyond 2015.


Lina_photoLina Canas is currently based at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Tokyo, working for the International Astronomical Union Office for Astronomy Outreach as Assistant Outreach Coordinator. Through the years, she has worked and collaborated with different nonprofit organizations such as Astronomers without Borders (AWB), Europlant, Galileo Teacher Training Program (GTTP) and GalileoMobile. With a background in Astronomy and Geophysics, for the past nine years she has dedicated efforts in astronomy education and outreach, primarily focusing on using astronomy to promote access and inclusion to a broad range of audiences.

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