by Avivah Yamani

Sidewalk astronomy.

I always love the idea. Simple but it can give a great impact for public. It doesn’t need many arrangement just take your equipment out and set it up in public place. Now.. you can share your idea, knowledge and share a piece of southern skies (well .... I live in southern hemisphere so this is the sky I share with public).

I live in Indonesia, an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. Now.. how you share astronomy and build awareness among public?

The simple answer is online media.  People in Indonesia can easily engage by social media especially because most of them using social media from their mobile phone. Online media help us share information and knowledge but how about the experience?

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Indonesia Astronomy clubs and institution distribution map

We must meet the public by ourselves to share the knowledge. In a large country like Indonesia, it is almost impossible to reach all people in a short time.  So we need more and more astronomy clubs to do this work. Until 2013, We have 19 Astronomy Clubs and 4 Astronomy Online Communities to do the job.  Several clubs have regular meeting and events for their members and public.  Another problem arouse. Most people knows nothing about astronomy and they seem to think astronomer as someone who learn how to tell fortunes. Again, we must come to the public not asking them to come to us.

The idea by showing them a piece of the sky and share astronomy in public place it will build curiosity and awareness. And the snowball effect will take place and attract more people to astronomy.

Well this is what we did here in several public place. We usually setup our telescope in a mall and gather people to enjoy the sky. But we also harness astronomy event such as Venus Transit or Eclipses to gather people to join us in public viewing in public place such as university or beach.

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Aside than that several clubs in Indonesia also harnessing Car Free Day event each Sunday morning to observe the Sun. Or when you go around or having a vacation, you can take your telescope with you and set it up in public place or in the street. It will drag more people to come to you and start asking many things. That’s what’s happen with me when I did sidewalk astronomy.

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Two latest event that I would like to highlight were Sun-day event during Car free days in Bandung  when I work with Darul Hikam Boarding School for their science and music event. they hold this event during car free day in the street and attract people who join car free day events to join us who also setup a telescope to observed the Sun. Many family come to us and join the observation but the children always fascinate me as their started to ask many things about celestial object. Many unique question and sometimes need philosophical thinking to answer them. But still I always believe events like this will inspire those children to start learning science in their life.

Another one was my three days off to my close friend’s grandmother. We visited a district named Ngliman which was in rural area. We stayed in her grandma’s house and in front of the house, stood an Elementary School. It was a cloudy day when we arrived there, but when the sun gradually showed it face, we used our sun glasses to observe it and set up the portable telescope we brought from Bandung which had been intended to support us holding a sidewalk astronomy and sun observation with the children. And this certainly attracted many students to join us. It wasn’t one time event since by night the students come to us and ask for another astronomy session.

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Sidewalk Astronomy session at school. Credit: Ronny Syamara

It was a “small after impact” when we hold a sidewalk astronomy session. But in fact in this simple thing we do, may be for some people or some children it was their first moment to see the celestial objects or simply it was their first time to know astronomy. But this first moment will give a large impact to them as they can see that science is doable and they can learn it from everyday life and do it using many simple thing around them.

This is important for people in Indonesia since we have many issues regarding the education curricula which started to eliminate science from elementary schools. So by doing sidewalk astronomy and have many children to observe the sky or start discussion with them will give more insight about science to them since they always curious to know more about everything.

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What we think as simple act can bring a big impact in the future. So.. take your telescope with you everywhere you go and give a chance for public to enjoy the beauty of the sky in public place with you.

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AvivahAvivah Yamani, is an astronomer, blogger, writer and a communicator who works in langitselatan (Indonesia astronomy online media), astronomy magazine in Indonesia and involve with 365 Days of Astronomy as project manager. Avivah also serve as Astronomer Without Border National Coordinator in Indonesia. She is involved extensively with astronomy communication with the public, enjoying the challenge of conveying complex ideas in an easy-to-understand manner.

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