Astronomy is a powerful and inspiring tool that can be used to motivate children to learn more about the world beyond their immediate neighbourhood, to encourage critical thinking, and engage them in different scientific disciplines. Although in our modern world there are many outreach programmes that bring astronomy to the classroom, most of them act in cities and rely heavily on internet connections. Thus, pupils and teachers in rural and remote areas rarely benefit from such efforts, making it difficult to know about modern space missions and world interpretations based on modern astronomy.
GalileoMobile, an itinerant astronomy outreach initiative, aims to bridge this gap. We perform teacher workshops and activities with students in schools within villages or communities that have little or no contact with other outreach programmes. Additionally, we donate educational material to each school visited such as a Galileoscope or a “You are Galileo!” telescope, an Earth Ball and a handbook of activities, to help teachers pursue more activities after our encounter.
The initiative is run voluntarily by an international team of astronomers, educators, and science communicators. Aside from sharing astronomy, GalileoMobile also wants to learn about the local traditions, and their knowledge and stories of the sky. In our experience, bringing experts from various countries is very stimulating for young people as they are naturally curious about other cultures and encourages collaboration beyond borders. Interacting with young astronomy researchers is very inspirational and motivating for students, and they often ask about an astronomer’s day to day job.
Since the creation of GalileoMobile in 2008, we have travelled across Chile, Bolivia, Peru, India, Uganda, and, in 2014, we returned to Bolivia and visited Brazil and Colombia for the first time. In total we worked with more than 70 schools. During the expeditions we interacted closely with local amateur astronomers, teachers, or university students to help us with the logistics. More importantly, they travelled with us and participated in our activities, which inspired them to continue pursuing such activities. An example is the group Starry Messengers formed by students of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, which was set up after our visit.
Our project for 2015, Constellation, is endorsed by the IAU Cosmic Light programme for the International Year of Light 2015 and is fundamentally different from GalileoMobile’s past expeditions. It aims to establish a South American network of schools committed to organise and share astronomical activities throughout the year. Although this restricts us to work with schools with an internet connection, it will bring new aspects that are common in science: collaborating, communicating and combining the results of experiments or observations. For example, counting the number of sunspots on the Sun may be impossible on a cloudy day in Chile, but not in Bolivia or Ecuador. Learning that collaborating can help them advance faster is a powerful message that will bring them closer together.
GalileoMobile has lived far beyond our expectations thanks to our devoted and passionate members, and our many supporters and collaborators. We hope to continue sharing astronomy for many years to come!