Sunday, June 10, 2012

Easter Island: Outreach Activities (1/3)

This past week I've been with a group of astronomers on Easter Island to do outreach, observe the transit of Venus, and do some tourism. This is the first of a 3 post series describing our adventures. Part 1 is a description of the outreach activities we did at Easter Island. Part 2 describes our viewing of the transit of Venus along with our distance estimate, and Part 3 is about the places we visited.

This all began when my officemate, Jackie Faherty, had the brilliant idea to travel to Easter Island and observe the transit of Venus, a rare event that on this occassion would not be visible from mainland Chile. However, traveling such a long way just to see an event for a few hours, along with the possibility of cloudy weather, seemed like a long shot, and so we decided to also do some outreach for the kids and general public of Easter Island. That way we would feel happy even if we got clouded out. Team Hetu'u was thus born.

Our outreach activities consisted on three main parts: a 2-day workshop at the museum, visits to the local schools, and coordinating school and outreach groups from around the globe to measure the distance to the Sun. I am pleased to say that all activities were highly successful.

One of the first things we did was to contact the museum and schools to begin coordinating. Unfortunately, communicating with such a remote island was tricky. We did reach them via email and had to rely on the museum staff to help promote the event and confirm with the schools. We all designed separate activities to promote the event, but I was a bit worried that things wouldn't flow very nicely or there would be unreasonable material/space requests. Fortunately, the activities were basic and very flexible (my activity is described here) so no problems there. We had activities about the Sun, the solar system, light, color, and perspective.

Santiago Gonzalez prepares to launch a water rocket outside the museum.

We had two days at the museum, starting from about 10:30am and going to about 1:30pm. In addition to the specific activities we defined, we were also continously answering questions, promoting the transit viewing, and holding 15 minute talks for the general public. My talk was on the transit of Venus and its history and I gave it both days to help promote the event (Spanish the first day, bilingual the second). Other talks were about the Sun, Polynesian astronomy and navigation, supernovae, galaxies, and much more.

Here's Francisco Förster giving his talk on the Sun, which we learned in rapanui is Te Ra'a.

All activites were performed both days, with the exception of the Sun viewing since it was cloudy the first day. We wanted to do a star tour at night, but that was not as well promoted. We did, however, still manage it and a few people came to see the Moon, Saturn, and some star clusters. The first day of the museum workshop was great with over 60 visitors that stayed for all the talks and visited all the activites. The second day was much slower with mostly tourists; there was both a marathon that day and Church services (it was Sunday). However, the local news station stopped by to record some interviews with us. That, however, would only air next Sunday after the transit.

Explaining my poster to the TV crew. It was mostly successful despite a few mistakes in some of the rapanui names and at least one person asked if the transit was only visible on that black line. Oops!

The following day (Monday) was set for school visits, though we revisited some schools on Tuesday morning as well. For this, we split up into four teams to hit the three schools, one of which is split on two locations. Each team was free to do what activities it deemed necessary, so I can only comment in detail to what Jackie and I did. I do know that the other teams used projectors with Sun images, inflatable planets, and water rockets so I'm sure the kids were well entertained and learned a lot about astronomy. Of course, all groups promoted the transit event on Tuesday and we saw many of the school kids that day.

Jackie and I targeted the Catholic school Colegio Hermano Eugenio Eyraud. We had had very little contact with that school so things were not as well organized. However, after seeing our enthusiasm they granted us access to their library where we set up. We had a laptop running Uniview and displaying it on a big TV. This software is by planetariums across the US to simulate astronomical events. We were able to show how the transit of Venus would look like and then fly to the planet itself to see it up close. A math class came by to see our presentation; other classes were busy with exams. However, we were also there for two brief recess periods and got to show our presentation to a lot of students.

A crowd of students gather to see Jackie fly them through the solar system.

The next day was the transit day and we had intended to have the morning free. However, we decided to do a few more things: a radio interview where Jackie, Francisco, Isabelle Gavignaud, and myself explained the basics of the transit and invited everyone to join us at Ahu Tahai; a brief visit to a day care center to show the planets to very little kids; and a revisit to Colegio Lorenzo Baeza Vega, which had asked for more time.

Below is a photo during the radio interview. Several people told us afterwards that they heard us on the radio. I'm hoping we might get a recorded copy since it would be very nice to have.

Morning radio interview!

And here is Jackie doing the planet dance with the kids at the day care center. It was really hard to get them to pay attention, so we just had pretty pictures with very basic information. At the end, they sang us a song to make the Sun come out. As you'll see on my next Easter Island post, it worked!

The dance of the planets

More outreach photos can be found here. Team Hetu'u worked like a well-oiled machine to promote the transit and encourage enthusiasm for astronomy and science on the island. The next post in this series is the big one: the transit of Venus observations at Ahu Tahai and our results on the distance to the Sun.

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