At dusk they unpack a heavily loaded vehicle, unwrapping Kenya’s biggest telescope, carefully connecting different parts of the delicate device.
This is “The Travelling Telescope,” a company hoping to inspire the next generation of astronomers along the way as it journeys to some of Kenya’s most remote areas to help kids gaze at the sky.
“The Travelling Telescope” was formed by Daniel Chu Owen and Susan Murabana in 2013.
Although Kenya, which lies on the equator, has amazing skies during the night, astronomy isn’t a subject typically taught in the country’s schools.
For these curious students it’s the first time they will have a chance to see the mysteries of the universe up close.
Though the the telescope has been around for more than 400 years, not many people in Kenya have had a chance to look through one.
“What we mainly target are schools, and all the schools, in all honesty. We want to reach as many kids as possible. The whole idea is to get them to appreciate science—not necessarily to get them into astronomy, but get them to appreciate science. So, we try to expose them first with readily available activities or readily available materials and have hands-on activities but also with some tools they are not usually exposed to. One of our most powerful tools is the telescope; it has been around for more than 400 years and yet very few people have looked through one and that includes many kids in Kenya,” says Murabana.
They charge a minimal fee of 200–300 Kenyan shillings (roughly 2–3 US dollars) per child in international or private schools.
One by one, the kids line up to look through the telescope.
Chu Owen says the experience is powerful and very different from looking at internet pictures and books.
“There is something really powerful about seeing things for yourself and seeing those photons coming from a star or planet or whatever, going through the telescope, hitting your eye, you know, you are not looking at a screen, you are not looking in a book, you know—you can do that and it’s great, I’m not dissing that. It’s an amazing thing that you can go on the internet and find out the most recent pictures from Pluto, from a mission that is 4 light hours away, it’s amazing we can do that, but doing it with your own eyes and seeing things for yourself, I think, is really powerful and it stays with you. It’s almost like you can’t deny that. Things on the internet, all this stuff I was saying about false stuff that’s put out there by people who just like conspiracy theories, it’s almost combating that—you can’t argue with somebody who actually shows you the moon. You see the craters, you see the mountains, you see these lava fields and all this detail on the moon and the planets, it’s a very powerful thing and I really want to share that with people,” he says.
Fourteen-year-old Evie Clarke is star struck as she gazes into the night sky.
“Over there is Venus and just above it is Mars and there’s loads of suns and the archer guy and on that telescope over there, you look through it and you have such a nice picture of the moon and you can see all the craters.”
“Oh man, it was amazing, yes,” she adds.
Students also get the chance to hop inside an inflatable dome where they can learn more about science and astronomy.
Fifteen-year-old Tamara Lugonzo is considering a new career in astronomy after her experience.
“When I went in I saw the planets and I saw Mercury and we were shown the moon and everything, and we watched a short film, and it made me even want to change my career, and I wanted to even do astronomy because it’s so cool, yeah,” says Lugonzo.
The exhibit also has virtual-reality headsets to give a more immersive experience.
The hope is that this “Traveling Telescope” will reach many children across Africa,
spreading the messages of the universe the science of astronomy has to offer.