The Travelling Telescope is a project that focuses on promoting Astronomy in Africa. From January 2015 our team started an outreach astronomy project in rural coastal Kenya visiting schools and teaching students. We recruited university students from the University of Nairobi with degrees in Astronomy & Physics. After interviews to determine we had picked a team of enthusiasts we decided to conduct astronomy outreach training. We ended up training 12 university students in hands on activities, planetarium sofware and telescope operation. We had an initial training of 3 days and after this process selected a team of 4 individuals who were going to be part of the “Travelling Telescope project”

The selected students underwent more training especially with the operation of the digital mobile planetarium, the 12-inch reflector telescope and the 4-inch refractor telescope with a solar filter. We also trained them on astrophotgraphy. This training was mostly done on site (in Nairobi) where we took the trainees to schools and as we offered planetarium shows to the students we encouraged the trainees to “watch and learn” and then later encouraged them to do the presentation on their own.

After a two week intense hands-on training the team comprising of Daniel Chu Owen, Dennis Ted Otieno and Samson Mutunga travelled in a 4 x 4 Travelling Telescope vehicle to the coast. It was a 14-hour slow motion drive as the car was full of delicate equipment from rooftop to wheel! Wilfred Baya, our other trainee, who happens to be from the coast area was already recruiting schools, liaising with the county government from the area, arranging for accommodation and other logistics
to make the project a success.

Once the team arrived, they immediately embarked on visiting schools. Normally the group would visit 3 schools in a day for 3 – 4 hours. Sometimes the schools would request repeat visits and on other accasions the team would visit 2 schools in a day, the last being a night time observing session. We would usually begin by addressing an entire school, and giving an overview of why we were there and what we wanted to share with them. We would then split into smaller groups where we could focus on some details about current ideas in astronomy, and how they relate to us on Earth.

We would use models of the Solar System, display the different types of optical aids using binoculars & telescopes, use a range of methods to explain crater formation, properties of light & gravity, and use a telescope fitted with a solar filter to show the Sun and its spots. Wherever we could, we would also use a projector to enlarge and convey software such as Stellarium (leaving a copy at every school with a computer), and show images from missions such as Apollo, Cassini, SOHO, MSL & the ISS among others. We would also play movies such as the ones we made about the 2013 total eclipse in Kenya and the 2012 transit of Venus, as well as others such as timelapse footage from the space looking at Earth and solar flares erupting on the Sun.

At night we would show students the night sky, explaining rotations & orbits using laser pens, and then use the large aperture telescope to observe everything from the Moon to Jupiter & Saturn, and sometimes out into deep space. At all times the teachers attended the school visits and gave back encouraging, positive reviews. There were times when the school had up to 1,500 eager students crammed into a large school hall. In certain situations we had to project stellarium on a big wall where a good number of students could learn and ask questions.

During just over 3 weeks we reached 32 schools, reaching as many as 13,000 students and around 200 teachers. We felt that most schools wanted us to return and work with them as a long term program and we intend to start astronomy clubs in all the schools we visited. Having produced an astronomy handbook we then ensured we left one with every school. In addition, we selected one school we felt had both enthusiastic students and teachers to receive a brand new telescope, with the hope that this will encourage a continued, in depth exploration into the subject.

For more information, visit the website – http://www.travellingtelescope.co.uk/