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Astronomy Festival in Bangalore, India December 9, 2010

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , trackback Bookmark and Share

by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium have partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy: Kalpaneya Yatre 2010.  November 28 – Dec 7, 2010

The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy. The Festival occupied the buildings and grounds of Nehru Planetarium. The Festival had four main areas filled with different aspects of astronomy. The entrance to the festival was a temporary addition to the main building spectacularly decorated with images of space and nebulae. The structure held a historical overview of astronomy.

The historical exhibit consisted of posters focused on particular astronomy achievements and early astronomers, there were a few artifacts such as early astronomy instruments, computer screens showing videos, and one end of the area was a big projection screen. The historical content began with Egypt and the astronomy associated with the pyramids and the Sphinx, then ancient Indian cosmologies and cosmograms, and the Nebra Disk and complex from Bronze Age Germany. Stonehenge was the last poster that was focused on a location and general knowledge rather than focused on a particular astronomer. The selection of astronomers presented start with the Greeks Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Hipparchus, and Ptolemaeus; a nice addition is of Chinese astronomer Wang Zhenyi and the woman astronomer Fatima of Madrid. The Muslim astronomers are Al-Biruni and Ibn Ul Haitham. The astronomer timeline followed the standard Copernicus-Tycho-Kepler-Gallileo trajectory with the interjection of Somayaji. The trajectory eventually reached Einstein, but before reaching him there is a series of posters dedicated to women astronomers: Caroline Hershel, Anne Jump Cannon, and Maria Mitchell. Jai Sing II, the Jantur Mantar observatory, and the Madras Observatory mark the last mention of non-European astronomers and locations. The remaining posters focused on Newton, Einstein, Eddington, and Hubble, and one more woman astronomer: Cecilia Payne. It is clear that a lot of thought went in to including women astronomers and non-European sites and astronomers.  Each poster clearly revealed what each astronomer discovered that advanced our understanding of the Universe. Where was Chandrasekhar? In the next part of the exhibit: the main building.

The exhibits in the main building focused on our solar system. There were two models of the solar system, a demonstration of planetary motion, a demonstration of the weather bands of gaseous planets such as those found on Jupiter, models of asteroids, and a 3-D image of the Sun’s surface for viewing with red-blue 3D glasses. Chandrasekhar was found in the solar section where there is information about stellar birth and stellar death. There was a slide show that includes some of the Hubble’s greatest images including interacting galaxies, Einstein arcs, and of course beautiful star formation regions.

The third area was the favorite of my children: a free standing white tent that was filled with science demonstrations related to astronomy! The children were able to touch and explore the demonstrations with the help of the docents who were also school children. There were about twenty demonstrations including four telescopes that had their covers off to show the optics of refracting telescopes and the mirrors of the reflecting telescopes. Noteworthy were the demonstrations showing the detection of non-visible wavelengths of light: there were demonstrations for ultraviolet, infrared, and fluorescent light. Having recently given an introductory astronomy test where my students got the question on the relationship between distance and flux wrong; the three demonstrations on measuring flux, measuring the maximum intensity of the solar spectrum, and changes in brightness were well done. My personal favorite was a demonstration showing the ring-around-the sun effect using glass beads. The biggest crowds were in this area and it is the one area where my children wanted to return again and again.

The final area was an sunny yellow and red tent that was open for children to sit and listen to lectures on astronomy. A lecture on solar astronomy was taking place during my visit.

The Astronomy Festival had enough variety to keep everyone happy: a hall for those interested in the history of astronomy, another for the solar system, hands-on demonstrations of the physics related to astronomy, and live lectures with people knowledgeable about astronomy. If all this is not enough, there were planetarium shows on a variety of astronomy topics every few hours. What was unique is that the docents were school children who were very well trained in explaining the science behind the experiments. It is a great idea to have children teaching children!

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