Pakistani Astronomers Bring Spectacular Science To Rural Masses
A grass-roots scientific association called the Khwarizmi Science Society (KSS) is gaining popular recognition for creating scientific awareness in far-flung areas of Pakistan. Using astronomy “astrofests” or “falakyati melas” (astronomy festivals) it is generating momentum and interest from people otherwise not exposed to such phenomena. The KSS decided to take part in the International Year of Astronomy 2009 with an idea to build a roving observatory and use astronomy as a means of promoting science education in distant and rural schools. To bring these heavenly bodies “live” to the enthralled audiences, they simply connected a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Celestron telescope’s eyepiece to a high-resolution CCD camera and projected the resulting images onto multimedia screens. Most of the audiences will never have looked through a telescope before and these brief moments of bliss can have a lasting impact on their thoughts, hopes and choices. Once their gear was up and running, the audience were delighted at what they saw, although the lunar craters surprised many who were used to the Moon’s established literary image! Similar melas have also been arranged in Lahore’s Punjab University and at a large school in Phoolnagar, some 70 km from the provincial capital Lahore. These events have attracted several thousand schoolchildren and the most inspiring mela took place in September in an all-girls school in Shahdara, along the banks of the river Ravi. The Society also aims to correct people who are misinformed by the media, such as silly superstitions associated with natural phenomena, like the claim that pregnant women needed to be protected from the evil influence of a solar eclipse.