Telescope donation gives youngsters a taste of outer space

St. Ignatius students Daniel and Darci Magennis checked out the amazing sight of the moon through a large telescope.

Several schools across the Cayman Islands now have an exciting new stargazing tool on hand thanks to the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society.

At a special event held on Tuesday, June 15 on the Camana Bay waterfront, representatives from 10 local schools were presented with telescopes and tripods.

The Astronomical Society set up a number of its telescopes on the waterfront, delighting attendees as they got a magnified view of the moon and some of the planets. After the presentation the public was invited to take a look through the telescopes, drawing a small crowd of excited participants.

“This donation of the telescopes to the schools is a serious attempt to promote STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] subjects in schools,” said society president Chris Cooke.

“STEM subjects will be an important part of the next generation of schoolkids and we are keen to promote astronomy as a way of making it accessible.”

The telescopes were given to the Society by the Astronomical Association of Jamaica in November 2015.

“They were part of a worldwide donation by Astronomy Without Borders, an international organization which fosters global cooperation through astronomy,” said Mr. Cooke.

“They donated 4,000 high-quality, easy to assemble Galileoscopes that were mass-produced to mark the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, to organizations and schools in developing countries to celebrate and promote the science based on Galileo’s first use of his telescope in 1609.”

Mr. Cooke explained the Galileoscopes are small refractor devices, which are model replicas of Galileo’s telescopes, and they are ideal for use by children as they are easy to use and make good teaching aids.

“With a few telescopes remaining, the Astronomical Society of Jamaica offered us 12 telescopes for local schools in Cayman on the condition they are used to seed and support science clubs and promote STEM subjects.”

The Astronomical Society also plans to host a free stargazing evening on June 28 in the Brac, weather permitting, similar to the monthly event held by the society on Grand Cayman at Pedro St. James in Savannah.

“I’ve been thinking for some years about visiting [Cayman Brac] to give a meeting open to all, as the [Sister] Islands seem to have missed out on a lot of the events we have given over the years, like the Transit of Venus and more recently the Transit of Mercury,” said Mr. Cooke

The schools receiving telescopes at the Camana Bay event were Prospect Primary, Cayman Prep and High School, Montessori by the Sea, Triple C, First Baptist, Savannah Primary School, and Clifton Hunter High School, and one is to be given to Layman Scott E. High School on the Brac on June 28.

“The schools were chosen because they have demonstrated an interest in Astronomy in the past, and have promised to use the telescope as a teaching aid either in lessons or in a science club,” said Mr. Cooke.

“In the case of the Brac they intended to start a science club in September so the timing is excellent.”

Savannah Primary Year 5 teachers Carol Gopaul, Mike Taylor and Kalia Elliott were thrilled that their school received one of the telescopes, given the students’ demonstrated enthusiasm for astronomy.

“We basically had a 95 percent turnout of students at a recent stargazing event for the school body at Pedro St. James, joined by many parents as well. The kids at the school are very interested in the stars and space,” said Ms. Gopaul, who collected the telescope on the school’s behalf.

Andre Visser of Montessori by the Sea was equally delighted that his school received a telescope, particularly since the students have the chance to use them on overnight and evening outings.

“If you expose kids to a variety of topics at an early age, you never know what will spark a passion in them,” said Mr. Visser.

“Getting a taste for Astronomy provides an excellent introduction to a whole array of areas of science kids may decide they want to pursue.”

Even visitors to the island had the opportunity to get an unexpected treat thanks to the event. The Rosenthal family, visiting from New York City, were excited they had the chance to take a look through the telescopes, as all three children happened to be keen about astronomy.

“We were just passing by, and the kids were just so excited they got this special opportunity to see the moon and planets like Jupiter and its moons, and Saturn and its rings,” said mom Carly Rosenthal.