by Amelia Ortiz-Gil

I know you love astronomy, or else you wouldn't be reading this blog. But what is there that can rival with the beauty of the night sky? In my personal opinion, something as wonderful and mesmerizing as that dark tapestry of stars is the smile and glow in the face of a child who has just uncovered a mystery of the cosmos.

Have you ever experienced that?

It is as if the veil of darkness of the unknown was raised from the child's face, to let the light of knowledge shine through.

Now, what is better than one wonderful thing? Maybe two wonderful things? Well, that is what we thought when we started our new project: "A Touch of the Universe." It puts together the beauty of the cosmos and the children’s smiles of discovery.

But we are ambitious too. We want to reach as many different children as possible. Children come in all sizes and shapes. Some are tall, some short. Some are fair and some dark. While some are blind, others are deaf. Some can break speed records and some can't walk. We want to reach them all.

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As you know, Astronomy is a very visual subject. In fact, that is why many poets, painters as well as scientists are inspired over the centuries to pursuit the curiosity and beauty. This goes to children as well. The Universe itself is a wonderland of colourful place for them. But this also means that it is difficult for those who are with visual impairments to see the Universe.

Is there anything that we could do? Our answer; let's make something that children with and without vision alike can enjoy and learn from.

Following up with the challenge, we gave birth to the "A Touch of the Universe” project to create a kit with different tactile materials to help children to learn Astronomy. These materials were developed by people who are experts in the subject and they have been tested with children from different backgrounds.

Of course we are not the first to notice this need though. In the past years, more and more people have become aware of these problems and quite a lot of tactile materials have been developed. And these are readily available. But not everyone can afford them. Not in the poorest corners of our home planet.

It also happens that in those regions the night sky is still free from light pollution, and they can enjoy it as our ancestors did in the past. Therefore, they have more stories, more questions about the Universe and we should help them to discover some of the mysteries, but also to make them aware of the even more profound and difficult cosmic mysteries.

"A Touch of the Universe" will produce 30 kits of tactile materials about astronomy to be delivered to children in underdeveloped countries through several networks of teachers and communicators who are already working in these regions. Our friends from Universe Awareness, Astronomers Without Borders, the Galileo Teachers Training Program and the Galileo Mobile will help us reach some remote corners of the Earth were children are eager to learn about astronomy.

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I am sure you are by now thinking – "hey, I'd like to be a part of this effort!” – well, I have some good news for you. We are actually seeking people who would help us through their generous donations, small or large, every bit helps! We still need to raise some funding to be able to complete the project, so… do you want to help us?

You can find more information about the project and how to collaborate with it at our website: http://astrokit.uv.es. Let's give the Universe to a blind child!

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AmeliaAmelia Ortiz-Gil is an astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Valencia, Spain. She  is currently working as an Outreach and Public Officer. She coordinated the astronomical activities for disabled people of the Spanish node during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 and is currently co-chair of AWB's Program for People with Disabilities.

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