Fostering Socioeconomic Development through STEM Education and Astrotourism in the Tharparkar Desert

The Government of Pakistan embarked on a significant overhaul of its national curriculum policy in 2006, resulting in the introduction of astronomy into the national science textbooks in 2018. This marked a milestone as astronomy had long been neglected in school and college curricula. However, the inclusion of astronomy has posed challenges for both students and science teachers, particularly in underprivileged schools with limited resources. The lack of funds and expertise in astronomy has hindered the implementation of effective training programs for students and teachers. To address these challenges, our proposed project involves the construction of a mobile observatory that will be used to mount the existing Celestron 8″ Nexstar Evolution Telescope and the Coronado SolarMax III 70 Double Stack Solar Scope for both dark sky and solar astronomy education and outreach.

Tharparkar District, located in southeastern Sindh, Pakistan, spans across an arid desert landscape covering an area of 19,637 square kilometers and have sparse population around 17 million. The region boasts a significant historical background with ancient civilizations and a vibrant cultural heritage. Despite the challenging living conditions, the resilient population relies on innovative farming methods and traditional underground wells to combat water scarcity.

The mobile observatory will visit a maximum number of schools, conducting astronomy education sessions and stargazing. This initiative aims to harness quality of education and economic opportunities by leveraging the unique characteristics of desert environments, such as clear skies and minimal light pollution. Another aspect of the project is to elevate the potential of astrotourism and bolster the local economy. The desert boasts breathtaking landscapes, ancient rocky hills, and an air of mystique, attracting thousands of tourists annually (in winter and post-monsoon). Furthermore, idea is to setup one or two key heritage sites with telescopes and other related accessories allowing visitors to explore the wonders of the desert night sky. Moreover, training sessions related to operation and maintenance of the telescopes will be conducted for heritage site community.

Following the successful completion of this project in Tharparkar district, we are eager about further expanding our efforts in astronomy education and outreach, advocating for astrotourism, and raising awareness about light pollution through our mobile observatory in various remote areas of Pakistan in the future.