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New paper on evaluating outreach activities

A short paper has been presented as a poster in the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019, held 15-20 September 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. The data originate from a series of outreach activities performed by the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association, entitled “Introduction to Observational Astronomy“, which aimed to introduce interested individuals to the aspects of the observational techniques for scientifically useful observations, i.e. how amateur observations can help professionals and contribute to Astronomy in general (pro-am networking).

Evaluating introductory seminars on observational astronomy, using the Europlanet Evaluation Toolkit

Moutsouroufi, Konstantina; Maravelias, Grigoris; Marios Strikis, Iakovos; Kardasis, Emmanuel; Voutyras, Orfefs; Kountouris, Giorgos; Evangelopoulos, Athanasios; Aggelis, Konstantinos; Papadeas, Pierros; Schmidt, Tamara; Christou, Apostolos

During December 2018 – February 2019, the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association coordinated a series of seminars entitled “Introduction to Observational Astronomy”. The goal of this series was to introduce interested individuals to the aspects of the observational techniques for scientifically useful observations. Using the Europlanet Evaluation Toolkit we implemented a number of evaluation methods to receive feedback. The results show the participation of a mainly young audience ( 60% between 18-39), where females are represented more than equally ( 52%). Using the “pebbles in a jar” method a 94% of satisfied attendees was measured, while by using post-event surveys (questionnaires) the lectures were perceived as “(very) explicit” and “(very) interesting” (94%), fulfilling the attendees’ expectations (92%). It is important to note that 88% considers that their interest in Astronomy increased and is willing to get involved in observations.

NASA/ADS bibcode: 2019EPSC…13.1749M , poster: EPSC2019-poster

Building an observatory in Syria

At the last issue of CAP journal (No. 23, Feb 2018) we find the article “The World at a Glance: Highlights from IAU National Outreach Contacts” that provides short news from the IAU National Outreach Contacts. And for Syria we read:

“Mohamad AlAssiry: Despite the political situation, the Syrian Astronomical Association was building an observatory and opened in August 2017.”

which I found impressive given the country’s situation since the war broke out in 2011.

Of course, a counter-argument would criticize the prioritization given the number of lives threaten everyday in Syria. However, only education and civilization will help us overcome (on the long-term unfortunately…) these problems.

Back to (my) school!

On Thursday 14th of May 2015 I had the unique opportunity to give a talk about Astronomy at the high school I graduated from in Aigaleo (Athens, Greece). As I have moved away from Aigaleo since 2007 and my visits in Athens are scarce the least, it is difficult to think of such an event (which should account for the other side’s interest too!).

An invitation was sent to the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association (HAAA) to ask for the possibility to organize an astronomical event at the 1st high school of Aigaleo. Astronomy was one of the supplementary courses at the high school to be chosen freely by students. However, it is one of the courses discarded recently after major changes in the curriculum. Fortunately, there are still (some) professors who spend extra hours with their students to offer them this opportunity (outside their work schedule and the curriculum of course!). The HAAAA tries to help bridge this gap by providing experienced outreach speakers and telescopes for public observing.

[There is not enough space and actually it is outside of the scope of this post to describe the activities of the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association (perhaps I should make one? in the mean time take a look at the poster of Voutyras et al., “10 Years of Developing Outreach Techniques and Best Practice by the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association”, European Planetary Science Congress 2013, held 8-13 September in London, UK, but astronomical events for the public and students are routinely organized, always including at least a talk and observation through telescope].

However, due to many other obligations at the time the event was difficult to organize. Moreover, the professor and the students were unwilling to postpone the whole event for later this year, since they had worked on the topic so far and the academic year was reaching its end. As I was planning to visit Crete a few days later (than the initial date they proposed) I though that it would be a great opportunity for me to give this talk! And since I had a connecting flight in Athens perhaps I could change my flight to Crete for the next day and spend more time at the event. After some mail exchanges the school agreed to change the day so it was left to me to decide if I could attend it or not. However, changing the ticket proved to be more expensive than what I had paid already for! In that case another speaker should be found.

But … would I spend 3 hours (doing nothing…) at the airport while the event would took place anyhow at my school? Of course not! So, a radical decision was made: I would ask from a friend to come and get me from the airport, head down to Aigaleo (~40 min by motorbike), spend about an hour there, and return me again at the airport (hopefully) on time to catch the plane for Crete!

Manos Kardasis (a friend with who I have shared many “astronomical adventures”) was the “volunteer” to become the “taxi” motorbike. I arrived at the Athens airport at the 19:45 and he was waiting to pick me up and drive to Aigaleo. Around 20:25 we reached the school. Fortunately, all students were there and after the necessary introductions with the professor we managed to gather all people inside the room within 10 min (probably a record time for such events!), as I could not spend more than an hour there. It was about 20:35 when I started my talk.

Some shots during the presentation

I began by presenting a short bio of myself, not due to any selfish reason, but mainly to show them and stress the fact that I have graduated from the very same school (something they didn’t know beforehand!). That of course raised some cheers by the students. I went on to speak about Astronomy and more specifically about “Massive Stars … and some interested cases”.

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It is usual in most public talks of this kind to present more general subjects (like our Solar system). I had decided to speak about what I am currently working on (such as the B[e] supergiants and the High-Mass X-ray Binaries), how they are connected with massive stars, and why the latter are important in our understanding of stellar and galactic evolution. And yes, I did included images that are more appropriate for professional audience (only a few though!). I know that this was too much information to be understood by high school students but, at the time, I though that I could give them just a taste of real scientific aspects (and not just pretty images or graphics). After all, these students do not have often opportunities to listen to and, moreover, to interact with scientists.

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I planned for a short talk (~20-30 min) to allow more time for questions and interaction with the students, which was actually the part that I was anticipating. And indeed it was the most interesting with questions ranging from which professors I had when I was in school (obviously we had many in common!), up to Hawking radiation and stellar evolution simulations (!).

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The time passed quickly and by 21:30 the telescopes were ready outside, waiting for the students, while we had to ride back to the airport. Even though the bike’s temperature alarm was on, we fortunately managed to get to the airport on time (around 22:10), so I was able to pass security, go to gate and relax a bit before my flight (at 22:55).

Even though it was indeed a very tight plan I really enjoyed it. It was great that I returned back to my school (after 17 years !) to make a presentation on what I am currently working on as an astronomer. Even more important I am pleased by the fact that I was able to give back something to a place that I know well that these opportunities are rare.

I am deeply indebted to Manos Kardasis for his unconditional commitment to help with the materialization of this plan (and for the photos also!), and Manos Vourliotis who organized the event.