Democratizing Astronomy One Child at a Time

democratizing astronomyThe Unistellar team recently traveled to the Rift Valley in Kenya to participate in a unique and exciting outreach event with a new initiative called StarWatchForAll. 

In conjunction with Unistellar and the SETI Institute, StarWatchForAll seeks to foster interest in astronomy by making telescopes available to children in remote African communities like the one we visited, Turkana, Kenya. Our trip was just the first step in a long-range commitment by the three organizations to bring the wonders of astronomy to Africa.

This trip was inspired by Gustav Ericsson, a Nairobi-based entrepreneur, and his wife, Ajuma Nasanyana, a well-known international model who was born in Turkana. Several months ago, they had an idea: could they bring the wonders of astronomy and stargazing to children in the part of Africa known as the cradle of humanity? “We were inspired by the night sky above Turkana,” said Ericsson, “where I could see the stars like I’ve never seen them before, and had a chance to talk to local children about the universe.” 

This idea grew into StarWatchForAll ( devoted to promoting stargazing and astronomy among children who live in places like rural Kenya. When Ericsson heard about Unistellar, he began to wonder about the impact the company’s innovative eVscope could have in places like Turkana.

“When Gustav told us about his program and asked if he could use our prototype eVscope, our response was an unqualified yes,” said Arnaud Malvache, President and CTO at Unistellar. “We immediately began planning a trip to Turkana so we could join him at a stargazing event using our prototype.” 

Together with Marion Mas, an astronomer and educator, Malvache flew from Marseille to Nairobi on October 21, then to Lodwar, and finally drove to Eliya Spring. “The trip was long but unforgettable,” said Malvache. “Marion gave a short talk on the universe, from the solar system to distant galaxies, which was translated in real time into Turkana, the local language. Then we invited the children to look at the night sky using the eVscope prototype. More than one hundred children attended the event, and every one of them was thrilled and delighted to explore the sky with us.”

This event helped refine the objectives of StarWatchForAll. The outreach program will dedicate one hundred percent of its funds to outreach programs related to astronomy in Kenya and beyond. It will also develop a template for teaching astronomy in remote areas of the world that involves both local astronomers and colleagues in other countries. Also on the horizon is the creation of a permanent center in Turkana devoted to training astronomers to teach children who live in remote corners of the world.

“Our curiosity is what makes us human,” said Bill Diamond, President & CEO of the SETI Institute. “We want to make it possible for children everywhere to explore the night sky and ponder the wonders of the Universe, and we’re thrilled to join Unistellar in a project that begins to make this possible.” 

Unistellar will be donating several of its advanced eVscopes to the StarWatchForAll organization and provide hands-on training to local astronomers.  Unistellar and the SETI Institute will collaborate on the development of educational materials and curriculum to teach educators in Kenya about astronomy, space science and the wonders of the night sky.

Franck Marchis, Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar and Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute, has also joined StarWatchForAll as a scientific advisor and will help shape its scientific and outreach objectives. “Everyone on this planet is eager to understand the stars and discover the cosmos. Unistellar is giving the sky back to all of us, in part because we know that SETI is a universal search performed on behalf of all humanity. StarWatchForAll plays a crucial role here because it gives us the opportunity to connect with Africa, a continent where millions of young people are eager to participate in the big challenges facing science and technology.”