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Denmark Calling: What’s in a name?

Runde Taarn

As stories from various regional Asteroid Day events reach us here at Asteroid Day HQ, we decided to share a couple of interesting ones with you! First off, we have Denmark.

Today, I would like to highlight a small, but rather fun fact from Jordi Steen Forteza, the regional coordinator of Asteroid Day Denmark in Copenhagen. Jordi was involved in the organisation of 2 different events, the first one as early as 2nd March, 2017 at the observatory on top of the Runde Taarn in Copenhagen, a talk about “Asteroids, Impact Threats, and the Potential Applications of Asteroids”. On 30th June, 2017, when Asteroid Day was upon us, Katrine Rasmussen and Tina Ibsen gathered 76 attendees at the Tycho Brahe Planetarium for a presentation and Astronomical Friday Night Bar Quiz that they organised. The event dealt with asteroids and conspiracy theories under the title of “Asteroid Facts vs. Alternative Facts”.
Jordi’s second event, also on 30th June, 2017 took place at Copenhagen’s Geological Museum and was organised by the SNU (Selskabet for Naturlærens Udbredelse), the Danish Association for the Advancement of Natural Sciences. The event was lead by Danish planetary scientist Dr. Line Drube and amateur astronomer Jordi Steen Forteza. But its 100 participants almost didn’t get to take part in the three talks and guided tour of the largest meteorite exhibition in Denmark. The event came to be due to a failed asteroid naming attempt a few months prior!

How a misnamed asteroid lead to Asteroid Day Denmark

Here’s the short story behind it:

This year’s Asteroid Day event at the Geological Museum, would probably never have happened without an asteroid naming attempt, that was cancelled!

It was late March 2017 and Jordi was thinking about naming an asteroid. The asteroid in question
was one that he had helped discover during his time as a very active amateur astronomer, back in
Mallorca in 2003. After some time thinking about it, he finally decided the naming should honour the
Danish asteroid scientist Dr. Line Drube, hoping that it might also attract attention towards Asteroid Day
in Denmark. However, after starting the naming process he received a message from a senior scientist at
the Planetary Research Institute at the DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, the German space agency), who kindly asked Jordi to withdraw the proposal, as he and some colleagues wanted to be the ones to surprise her with an asteroid, and they had already also started the naming process.

But the story has a happy ending: In May 2017 the 3 km large asteroid (11262 Drube) was announced, and Line learned that not only one group, but two had been in the process of trying to name an asteroid for her. She felt lucky and flattered to hear this, and decided to thank Jordi for his attempt by offering to organise an Asteroid Day event with him later that year, using her network to do sp. So all of this was due to the result of a “failed” naming attempt.

Asteroid Day Denmark
From left to right: Dr. Line Drube of the DLR, Dr. Morten Bo Madsen from the Niels Bohr Institute, and Jordi Forteza from Asteroid Day Denmark to the right, after an evening of lectures and guided tours.

We for one are glad that Line got an asteroid named after her in the end after all and would like to thank her, Jordi and all of the other people involved in Asteroid Day Denmark for a job well done!

Tusind tak!

If you’d like to organise your own Asteroid Day Event next year (after all, as of today, Asteroid Day 2018 is only 330 days away!), please do so by registering it on our Events page. There, you’ll also find resources and all the information needed to launch your own event. And we guarantee that you won’t have to first discover and attempt to name an asteroid in order to do so.

Other, previous regional stories include Asteroid Day Chile, Sweden, and Mexico!

And speaking of naming asteroids, this does seem like a tricky endeavour. Not unlike Jordi, Asteroid Day supporter Matt Dawson has a similar story of his own to share: This July he realised that an asteroid was named after him as well – but already almost 20 years ago. Read his full story in Luxembourg’s English-language Delano magazine!

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Asteroids and Inclusivity in Chile

Tactile Model of the Solar System

Yesterday, the news of a special Asteroid Day event by the Diego Portales University‘s (Universidad Diego Portales) Astronomy Hub reached us here at Asteroid Day HQ. The faculty – having made previous efforts to promote inclusivity – organised an inclusive talk and workshop at the university aimed specifically at children with visual impairments.

Inclusivity as an inspiration for other regional events

The event took place at a school for blind people on the 30th June with about 30 participants. The goal was not only to educate people about asteroids, but also to raise awareness for the need of inclusive education and didactic teaching methods for astronomy.

The organisers used tactile models as main teaching tool and incorporated sounds in creative ways to appeal to the visually impaired kids’ other senses. Thus, they managed to simulate both the formation and impacts of near-earth asteroids. Using this highly interactive approach, the activity succeeded in conveying a taste for astronomy to the participants.

With tactile learning as a central piece of the workshop, children could touch a real meteorite (using gloves to protect it from their hands’ moisture). Eliana Medina, the head of the school made clear that such inclusive experiences help her students’ learning process. By deploying all of their available senses, beyond just sight, students are able to better process and remember information that experts in the field explained to them. And these enhanced learning methods can help children without disabilities as well!

The students were fascinated by astronomy, took part in the discussions, asked questions and were excited to share what they had learnt that day with their families at home. One of the kids even expressed his wish to become an astronomer himself one day!

Erika Labbé, coordinator of the university’s astronomy hub, pointed out that they received massive support and help from the university which has recognised the importance of inclusiveness as a fundamental human right. Projects like hers are in dire need of this kind of support if they are to be realised. Without it, they won’t be able to continue reaching audiences with special needs.

Challenges of inclusive astronomy

But there are other challenges to consider as well when communicating astronomy that apply to all audiences. For effective learning experiences, language has to be used adequately, adapted to the context and the audience, in well-structured talks for amateurs. If done right, these measures are an important step for the democratisation of knowledge. Especially in the case of blind people, well thought out workshops can help them to receive information beyond their immediate surroundings that they can perceive with their other senses, thus contributing to more abstract learning.

Frustration is something these visually impaired children are used to, signalled Eliana Medina. Discovering new things that they thought were out of their reach really pushes their motivation to become passionate about a specific field of knowledge. Astronomy is a very visual field: Observations are at the heart of it and amateurs are easily excited by images of space. Therefore inclusive approaches in the communication of astronomy open the field up to a whole new group of people. For this purpose, the solution Erika Labbé found was to convert the images she normally uses when communicating astronomy into tactile scale models made of different materials. The most difficult in all of this was the representation of light, essential to the transmission of many astronomical concepts, which many of the visually impaired have never experienced themselves. She overcame this by using heat as an equivalent, pointing a heat lamp at the children’s hands which took the role of eyes hit by sunlight.

The challenge lies in being open to try new things and learning from the experience of the children with these disabilities. Sometimes putting yourself into the position of someone who can’t use their sight in the same, predominant way people with full eyesight do, requires a great deal of imagination. The use of 3D models of our solar system or of an impact crater (pictured above) were the results of exactly this type of creative thinking. The impact crater was printed using NASA’s 3D crater models available to anyone.

Besides opening new fields of knowledge to kids, Erika Labbé wants to open the mind of educators as well, teaching them about the possibilities of inclusion. “The main problem is that many completely ignore what it really means to have a disability and what emotional strength it takes to confront this situation for the first time”, she says. But once these barriers have been overcome, such a process becomes normal and very motivating. The most important thing for Erika is that workshops and initiatives like the one for Asteroid Day in Chile become the norm instead of remaining an exception. Only then can inclusivity succeed.

We certainly support this view and salute the entire team of the Diego Portales University’s Astronomy Hub and the Santa Lucía School for the Blind for their efforts. It’s through innovative approaches like these that our campaign of awareness can reach new people and excite the next generation!

But it is also an issue that we weren’t really aware of before. Therefore we invite anyone to share initiatives, suggestions and resources that can help us to reach out to visually impaired audiences or people with other disabilities. If made available to other regional coordinators and their events, such an inclusive toolkit could help them reach entirely new audiences as well.

Sources: 

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