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by Roberto Molar Candanosa

Children from La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca La Merced, Guatemala, recently got new toys to play with: two Orion FunScope Astro Dazzle 4.5’’ telescopes. They also got textbooks and educational materials to learn about the stars they will see with their new toys.

Amy Jackson, founder of Starry Sky Austin, bought and delivered the telescopes thanks in part to funds raised via the Big Impact Giving (BIG) project run by Astronomers Without Borders. During her weeklong stay in Guatemala, Jackson showed teachers and kids how to use the telescopes and led activities to teach basic astronomy concepts.


“I felt like I wanted to take my program to a community that probably has no opportunity to look through a telescope ever, or where it would be highly unlikely,” Jackson said.

 

In Guatemala Jackson led adapted versions of activities like the Thousand-Yard Model, which helped the kids visualize the relative sizes and spacing of the planets in the solar system. With activities like this, Jackson helps kids learn and understand the vastness of the universe. “We usually talk about how you might feel small,” she said. “But we are also big because everything that created us and the things we see all came from a supernovae.”

Jackson also led a stargazing party where kids watched the moon with their new telescopes. About 125 people showed up that night—all of them excited and giggling when they saw the moon up close. It was the first time some of them had looked through a telescope lens. Turn out was shocking, Jackson said, because she was expecting to just get a handful of kids.

“When you hear the giggle, you know that you touched someone and that you sparked their interest,” Jackson said. “I know that just from their giggling and running to the back of the line to see it again—and there was like 50 people in that line, so that was really awesome.”

That spark of interest translated into lots of rich conversations with the children. For example, one them asked what he needed to do to become an astronomer. Jackson told him about a university in the nearest city with an astronomy program and an observatory. “It was really exciting to hear him ask that,” she said.

After returning to the United States from a family wedding in Guatemala, Jackson came up with the idea of donating the telescopes. After that trip, she felt like she wanted to give something unique back to her heritage. She didn’t really know what to offer, until it came to her: “I thought, ‘well, I have this knowledge and this program, let’s take it to Guatemala.’’

Jackson hopes she can take her program to other communities like Finca La Merced, where she was happy to see children excited about astronomy. One of the locals helping coordinate the activities told Jackson she had “left a light on” in La Merced. And now Jackson definitely wants to go back some time soon and check on that light.

Jackson has a BS in physics from the University of Houston and a MS in Teaching from Rice University. To learn more about her, Starry Sky Austin, and her trip to Guatemala, visit: http://www.starryskyaustin.com/

To learn more about how the BIG projects run by Astronomers Without Borders help programs like Jackson’s, visit: http://astronomerswithoutborders.org/projects/472-big-project/3076-making-a-big-difference.html