Polish pupils and teachers in FranceFête de la Science & Hands-on Universe This year, during Festival of Science in France (Fête de la Science), interactive astronomic show took place, which was a part of the international programme Hands on Universe (http://hou.astronet.pl). This was one of the forms of presenting Polish culture in the French Republic entitled Nova Polska organised by International Cultural Cooperation Centre Adam Mickiewicz Institute as a part of the programme Cultural Seasons. Cultural Seasons Programme is based on the agreements between the Polish Ministry of Culture and French Ministry for Culture and Media Studies, as well as Polish and French Ministries of Foreign Affairs. At the festival in Le Mans and Paris, Poland was represented by students associated with Astronomic Club Almukantarat: Micha Wrochna (Staszic High School, Warsaw) and Malgorzata Karas (Malczewska High School, Zawiercie) together with Dr Sci. Grzegorz Wrochna, Assistant Professor at Soltan Institute for Nuclear Studies, Warsaw. Poles cooperated with: Martine Janvier, Annette Gravier and Monique Lubineau - teachers form the Collège Vieux Colombier, Le Mans and their students Gaëtan Jousse, Benjamin David, Virginie Drouet, Caroline Rezé, Ismaël Boinali and Baptiste Menard, Patrick Salètes - astronomy populariser in French schools, Roger Ferlet - astrophysicist from CNRS in Paris, the president of F-HOU, Richard Bonnaire and Hélène Vignolles from the Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris and students of Vieux Colombier Collège, Le Mans.
The main aim of the interactive astronomic show was to demonstrate possibilities of observing celestial bodies, using computer, simple telescope, webcamera and adequate software. It is an inexpensive method available even for amateurs. During the show, participants could learn what equipment is required and how to combine necessary elements.
The easiest way, available for everybody, is watching the pictures taken by great telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, which allows observing even distant galaxies. However, wouldn't it be more interesting to make observations ourselves, to photograph the sky on our own, especially when it turns out easier than we might have ever expected? Professional astronomers use CCD cameras (Charged Coupled Device), which give almost really unlimited opportunities due to the technology of digital recording. Unfortunately, their disadvantage is the price - the simplest ones cost more than $1000. However, the CCD sensors - less sophisticated than those professional ones - are widely used in accessible and relatively cheap digital cameras or webcams. So why not to use them for astronomic applications? A webcam (the price of a basic one is only about $50), after some small and easy modifications, is almost ideal for making astro-photographs of stars, planets, asteroids, craters and seas on the Moon surface and a lot of others. Possessing a modified webcam, telescope and a special solar filter we are able even to watch sunspots. But astronomy isn't only about watching celestial bodies, but also analysing them: thanks to a webcam we can measure the lightness of asteroids or variable stars, prepare diagrams of their lightness which provides us with broad knowledge about the objects (for instance, a diagram of asteroid lightness lets us predict their shape).
Of course taking astro-photographs using the webcam is not the end - we still need to work on them to receive a higher quality picture. We can achieve it using programmes designed for this purpose, such as free accessible in Internet IRIS (http://www.astrosurf.com/buil/us/iris/iris.htm) or open source project AUDELA (http://audela.ccdaude.com/) with a part SkyEye written by Artur Kalicki, designed especially for studying the variable stars.
Astronomic shows in Le Mans and Paris
Polish team started their adventure in France on October, 13. At the railway station in Le Mans we were welcomed by Martine Janvier, the Vieux Colombier Collège teacher, one of the main organizers of our staying in the city. After visiting the school, meeting the pupils and preparing the classroom to the next day presentation, we were taken by the French families to their houses.
October, 14 was the first day of presentations. We came to the college in the morning, prepared the equipment: computer, telescope, webcam, and started the presentation. We were giving lectures from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Every hour we had a new group of students of different ages. All of the technical details were explained by Michal. French students were amazed how much can be observed using easy and accessible tools.
Around 8 p.m. the open conference "The astronomic evening" started. Many people came - students, teachers, and parents, both: those interested in the science or those, who had never heard about it before. Unfortunately, the clouds preclude the direct observations, but the audience was fascinated with lectures. Mr Patrick Salètes and Roger Ferlet gave a speech about astronomy, and then students had the chance to present their knowledge. The next day there were our lectures again and after finishing them, together with the two teachers and six students from the Vieux Colombier Collège we went to Paris.
Preparations of the Polish stand at the Peter and Mary Curie University started early Saturday morning October, 16. Everybody was engaged and we were even accompanied by French professors. During next few hours the room was visited by astronomy lovers. We had the great pleasure to explain them how to make the sky observations and discuss astronomy issues. During our stay at the university we also had a chance of visiting the unchanged laboratory, where Peter Curie used to give his lectures.
We spent Sunday visiting the shows connected with Fête de la Science in Paris. The most interesting were those in the City of Science La Villette. Also on Sunday we said good-bye to our French friends. This was the end of our participation in the French Festival of Science.
After hard, but full of unforgettable experiences work, we decided to visit Louvre (were we spent Monday), which was an amazing cultural impression. In the evening we left France and came back to Poland.
The interactive astronomic show was appreciated by teachers and students of Vieux Colombier Collège, Le Mans. "The astronomic evening" in Le Mans and Polish stand in the Peter and Mary Curie University in Paris gained huge publicity. These are the reasons why we hope that Hands on Universe programme will be widely developed in Europe and the whole world. The cooperation with French at the area of popularisation of astronomy, including exchange of students will surely be positive for both. Sharing ideas, computer programmes, observation results and preparing together some propagation actions will surely make astronomy more popular in both countries. Perhaps the next Hands on Universe international conference in Pekin in 2005 will give new international enterprises, in which, of course, Polish people will take part.
I wish to add that in October the European Commission accepted the realisation during next two years the education programme EU-HOU: Hands-On Universe, Europe - Bringing frontline interactive astronomy to the classroom. The astronomic observations using webcams and low-cost equipment are Polish inset to this project.
Malczewska High School, Zawiercie