Sidewalk astronomy club leader is heading to Chile

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The group is working to get younger generations interested in STEM education.

#popscope logo // #popscope website

A new kind of astronomy group is popping up all over the country. The group, called #popscope, is a public astronomy project run by volunteers who take science to the streets to get the community and youth involved. The volunteers are taking the pop-up telescope method around to promote STEM education in public spaces and to get the community more invested in science.

One of those #popscope volunteers, Ariel Hicks, will be joining eight other astronomy educators from across the country on a trip to Chile. Hicks first became a part of the group after meeting the co-founder, Viva Dadwal, while she was working at a coffee shop in Baltimore.

“She told me about a public astronomy project called #popscope,” Hicks told Astronomy. “I thought to myself, ‘there is so much light pollution! What can you possibly be looking at?’ Honestly, I wasn’t too intrigued until I actually went out onto the streets and saw people’s reactions after looking through the telescope.

“It didn’t matter what was in the lens. Whether it was Saturn, Jupiter, or our natural satellite, people had the same reactions of excitement and wonder. That really sparked my curiosity.”

After spending some time with the group, co-founder Michael O’Shea recommended Hicks apply to be a part of this year’s Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP). The program is a collaboration between Associated Universities, Inc., the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and the Gemini Observatory.

While in Chile, the group will be trained on how to use the instruments there, data products, and talking science. After they get home from the trip, the Ambassadors will then go to schools and community groups all across the United States and talk about observatories, their resources, and the team’s experience in Chile. 

Hicks said she’s most excited to see the ALMA and CTIO telescopes during her trip.

The ALMA telescope // ESO/C. Malin
“I’ve read about these for a very long time and I’m told the Milky Way looks like a river from these locations,” she said. “I’m also really excited to share everything I learn along the way with our other chapters and with community members on the streets of Baltimore.”

The trip is about more than just learning about equipment and looking through telescopes, though.

“Along with looking through various telescopes, we will get the opportunity to build relationships with fellow ACEAP Ambassadors who are professional and amateur astronomers,” Hick said. “This network of relationships will allow us to utilize a greater pool of resources when we return home to communicate STEM materials more effectively.”

Hicks said she loves being a part of #popscope because of the community building it brings to such a diverse set of people. Members range from engineers to musicians to public health researchers to baristas. Besides the community building, Hicks also enjoys being able to study the night sky in a new way.

“Many people have been doing public astronomy for a very long time,” Hicks said. “We are taking a new approach that hopes to learn from the old ones.”

You can get in touch with #popscope, find a chapter near you, and keep track of what the group is doing with their TwitterInstagramFacebookwebsite, and the livestreaming site Periscope


Editor’s Note: associate editor John Wenz is affiliated with #popscope. As youth in astronomy is a concern of the magazine’s, we decided to run this story.

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