Jamaican stargazers to help Cayman students see in the dark

The stars aligned in a meeting of the presidents of the Jamaican and the Cayman Islands Astronomical societies recently with heaven-sent results.

Chris Cooke, president of the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society, and his Jamaican counterpart, Jamaica Defense Force Lieutenant Colonel Martin Rickman, president of the Astronomical Association of Jamaica, met at the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club in Kingston, Jamaica on Sunday Nov. 22, for their first-ever meeting. They were joined by Errol Rickman, immediate past president of the Astronomical Association of Jamaica.

During the informal talks, they discussed “several matters of mutual interest, including the community outreach work … undertaken by [their] respective societies.”

Lt. Col Rickman said that the meeting was highly productive in opening communications and establishing relations between the two astronomical societies.

In underscoring the importance of such meetings, the Astronomical Association of Jamaica president said that fostering closer ties was vital in encouraging the sharing of information and ideas. “What it is important to appreciate is that a lot of objects in space were discovered and subsequently named by amateur astronomers,” he said.

Educational gift 

During the meeting, Lt. Col. Rickman donated 12 telescopes to the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society in his role as national coordinator of Astronomy Without Borders, an international organization which fosters global cooperation through astronomy.

The Galileoscopes are small refractor devices, which are model replicas of the one made by the famous 17th century astronomer. Mass produced to mark the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, 4,000 of the high-quality, easy to-assemble kits were distributed to organizations and schools in developing countries to celebrate and promote the science based on Galileo’s first use of his telescope in 1609, they are ideal for use by children as they are easy to assemble and are good teaching aids, both Messrs. Cooke and Rickman confirmed.

“I believe that somewhere in the Caribbean is a future great astronomer or future cosmologist. Our aim as societies is to provide opportunities to such individuals, to reach out and guide them and give them better opportunities regionally,” Lt. Col Rickman said.

Mr. Cooke said, “I was surprised and delighted to receive the telescopes on behalf of our society from Astronomy Without Borders. It seems they had a small surplus and thought, given the extent of our schools’ work, that we could find them good homes in Cayman and provide any initial technical support needed.”

A proviso of the donation is for recipient schools to try and set up an astronomical club.

“We’d like to see that every one of the telescopes ends up impacting more than one child,” Lt. Col. Rickman said.

Cayman Islands Astronomical Society 

Cayman’s Astronomical Society is a small club that relies entirely on public donations and membership fees. It provides key support in promoting the sciences for clubs, schools and the general public locally. Its most recent collaboration was in partnering with the University College of the Cayman Islands earlier this year to help organize the International Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference. Through this and other events over the past five years, the society has built up useful relationships with other astronomical organizations and academic institutions across the Caribbean, Mr. Cooke said.

Given the society’s hands-on approach when promoting astronomy and the sciences within the community, Mr. Cooke said, “I’ve a couple of ideas of which schools would really benefit from them but I’ll need to discuss this with members at our next meeting.

“Any school chosen to receive a Galileoscope would, of course, be given free help and advice by the society to encourage their astronomical club to become established and grow.”

The Cayman Islands Astronomical Society has visited schools and societies on a regular basis for astronomy outreach for many years in Grand Cayman but due to financial limitations has not yet visited schools in the Sister Islands. The society is currently looking at ways in which such visits could be funded and would welcome any sponsorship to facilitate a Sister Islands outreach program.

Students in Jamaica try out a Galileoscope.

Students in Jamaica try out a Galileoscope.

From left, Lt. Col. Martin Rickman, Chris Cooke, and Errol Rickman

From left, Lt. Col. Martin Rickman, president of the Astronomical Association of Jamaica; Chris Cooke, president of the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society; and Errol Rickman, immediate past president of the AAJ at the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club.