by Mike Simmons

Like most things, astronomy has changed quite a bit in the 40 years I’ve been involved. And the changes come faster all the time. In the five years that Astronomers Without Borders has been we’ve had several changes in direction, not just because of new technologies but also new ideas and new opportunities.

Of course, the internet has changed everything in the past five years. With connectivity in all but the most remote locations, AWB programs are available to more people than ever. Connecting across borders has gone from a rare event to a normal part of daily life for many. It has become a “small world” in many ways.

Now, events like Global Astronomy Month, Yuri’s Night, Earth Hour and others are worldwide celebrations. Not just with local events happening at the same time, but with sharing between them in real time through social media. The 100 Hours of Astronomy Cornerstone Project, the premier observing program of the hugely successful International Year of Astronomy 2009, broke new ground in bringing amateur astronomers together for observing regardless of their location or culture. The whole world looked skyward together during the Global Star Party as tens of thousands of amateur astronomers took their telescopes to the streets to share the heavens with others, knowing that many more around the world were joining them. It was truly a global event.

Global Astronomy Month (GAM) follows in the footsteps of that historic event, but the footsteps have become a lot bigger, with programs I never imagined. AstroArts, combining the universal pursuits of art and astronomy, has become a major program. The annual GAM Cosmic Concert, combining the universal language of music with images of celestial wonders, was joined this year by Aurora Borealis in events that cross every kind of border. GAM provides a forum for new ideas, and the ingenuity and innovation that it has fostered have really amazed me.

Social media has played a large part in the changes as well, with communication now virtually instantaneous even while reaching ever larger audiences. Much of AWB’s communications now takes place on various social media channels. With different types of mobile devices followers and participants want to connect in a variety of ways.

The change in AWB programs is evident as well. Just look at all the online programs during GAM 2014. There were more online observing programs than ever with our partner, the Virtual Telescope operated by Gianluca Masi. Google Hangouts were presented by AstroArts along with a first attempt at bringing sidewalk astronomy outreach events together live from two continents. These not only allow the participants to interact but the audience plays a part with comments and questions as well. That’s the best part of these programs to me!

There are changes on the AWB website as well. We’re increasing crowdfunding programs this year, giving everyone the opportunity to directly support the programs they want to see succeed. And we’ll be adding new tools to the website to link photos and reports to projects so everyone can more easily share what they’re doing. A new forum will also increase interactivity between everyone in the AWB community.

I’d like to think that AWB has had something to do with the way astronomy is practiced these days but I know our impact is still very small on a global scale. Our growth continues to be amazingly fast, though, so with everyone’s help AWB will continue to touch more lives and bring more people together through the universal interest of astronomy.

One People, One Sky


Mike Simmons is the founder and president of Astronomers Without Borders. No stranger to organizing global programs, Mike was was co-chair of 100 Hours of Astronomy in the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Mike has been an amateur astronomer involved in public outreach and education for 40 years.


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