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UC students are helping the public reach for the stars

There is more than meets the eye in the night sky and two University of Canterbury (UC) physics and mathematics students are showing this to the public.

Ryan Ridden-Harper and Toby Hendy, members of the Canterbury Astronomical Society, were keen to show passion about astronomy and developed the Christchurch Urban Astronomers along Malcolm Locke from the society. Their aim is to educate and inspire the public.

“The Urban Astronomers initiative is a way to encourage people to look up at the sky and consider what it may hold,” says Ridden-Harper.

“We want to show people that astronomy is not just an abstract subject but rather one with great influence to life on Earth and our perspective of the universe.”

Ridden-Harper and Hendy have been running the Urban Astronomy sessions since late last year, showing the public interesting bright objects such as the moon, Saturn and Venus, and more recently, allowing them to see the sun using solar telescopes.

“We started running night time Urban Astronomy sessions in September last year, at the Pallet Pavilion. We began using the solar telescopes in January this year. We’ve run a few sessions across Christchurch, mainly at the Re:Start Mall,” says Hendy.

The group mainly targets foot traffic so it can reach people who might otherwise never have used a telescope, or had the opportunity to develop an interest in astronomy.

“Generally, people are curious about the telescopes and approach us to see what we are doing. This gives us a wide range of people to talk to such as Christchurch residents and tourist from all over the world.

“We welcome anyone interested in becoming involved. All that is needed is a passion for science and a willingness to interact with the public,” says Ridden-Harper.

Ridden-Harper and Hendy say they have received extremely positive feedback from the public.

“We have had comments that we have made a real impact on people’s knowledge of the sky and have introduced them to ideas that they had not yet considered.

“Many are blown away that they are able to see such objects in an urban area. With solar viewing, people are often surprised with what the sun looks like when it is made safe to view through filters.

“One of the most rewarding things is to see children leaving with an enthusiasm to learn more about what we have shown them,” says Hendy.

The sessions are weather dependant.


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