Royal Astronomical Society celebrates 200th anniversary by funding five outreach projects

The outreach efforts will unite several communities, including prison inmates, girls and young women


Astronomy and education can inspire continuous communities. Image credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

Five exciting public projects are being funded by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) as they approach their impressive 200th anniversary. It has just been announced at their Annual General Meeting in London, that out of numerous applicants, the winning charitable projects will supported by the so-called RAS 200: Sky & Earth programme with its lucrative £400,000 funding. With projects stretching from Cornwall, Devon to Galway, West Ireland, the outreach efforts will unite several communities with astronomy and geophysics.

“These projects led a competitive field, with more than 70 initial applicants, and it was a pleasure to announce their funding,” says Prof. Steve Miller, who chairs the RAS 200 Steering Group. “I’m very much looking forward to working with all the winners, and seeing them make a real difference to the communities they serve.”

Beyond Prison Walls

This project is led by the charity and social enterprise ‘Bounce Back Foundation’, as they focus on training ex-offenders and inmates for employment and giving them a better quality of life after prison. This project will take the universe to HM Prison Brixton and other prisons in London and Home Counties. The aim is to unite prisoners, families and communities by not only using ‘Virtual Reality’ to explore the wonders of the cosmos, but they will be given the opportunity to redecorate their environment with an astronomy/space science theme that will capture their imagination.

Reaching for the Stars: Adventures in Space for Girls and Young Women

There have been many influential female astronomers throughout the years, such as Nancy Roman and Vera Rubin, and Girlguiding plans to give girls and young woman, aged 5-25, the chance to be inspired and intrigued with this project. ‘Reaching for the Stars’ will give girls and young woman a fantastic opportunity to participate in exciting activities with many exciting experts, along with a volunteering programme for RAS fellows to get a taste for the life of an astronomer.

Nancy Roman, the “Mother of Hubble’ was a influential female astronomer. Image credit: NASA

Touch the Sky: Tactile Stargazing for the Blind People

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) supports the blind and partially blind of the UK to install confidence for their futures with practical and emotional support. ‘Touch the Sky’ will help thousands of people with sight lose to explore the night sky with the assistance of tactile star-balls, educational materials and other props. These materials will be sent to ten of the UK’s science centres, planetariums and museums, amongst that, a training programme shall be delivered to the Glasgow Science Centre staff by RNIB itself. All these improvements will surely change the lives of many RNIB members and help engage with their local communities.

Making Space

On the west coast of Ireland is the cultural hub of Galway, and in 2020, Galway will be the European Capital of Cuture alongside Rijeka, Croatia. What a better way to utilize such a creative and popular city at this time, than have the National University of Ireland Galway lead the ‘Making Space’ project. Astronomy will be celebrated and decorated throughout the streets of Galway supported by activities including public installations, music and a creative events programme. Astronomy will slowly take Ireland by storm after this, thanks to the creativity of the ‘Making Space’ project.

‘Cornwall- Sea to Stars’ will spread the astronomic word across Cornwall. Image credit: NASA/Jack Fusco

Cornwall – Sea to Stars

Bringing astronomy and geophysics to your doorstep, ‘Cornwall – Sea to Stars’ will do exactly that. This mobile trailer will head to different locations to help the more deprived communities of Cornwall understand the origins of the universe and much more. With the intent to unify professional, public, commercial and volunteer organizations this trailer will cover a wide range of astronomical topics. Hopefully soon, the whole county of Cornwall will be gazing at the stars knowing exactly what to look out for.

Prof. John Zarnecki, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, congratulates the winning projects: “A major part of the work of the RAS is to foster interest in the sciences we support, namely astronomy and geophysics, and that’s why we’re celebrating our 200th anniversary with a revitalised public engagement programme. My hope is that RAS 200: Sky & Earth helps spur more people to pursue an interest, and perhaps even a career, in these fascinating disciplines.”

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