Space for All: Bringing astronomy to remote mountain villages in Morocco

The night sky is a great lever, something that people from all walks of life have been able to look up to and be inspired by. Unfortunately, the ability to observe planets and stars and study the mysteries of the Universe is something that is not yet open to everyone. When it comes to astronomy, there is always a problem of access, which reflects the disparities in development, education and health around the world.

This disparity is not only persistent with respect to developed and developing countries, but also between urban and rural communities. In southern Morocco, this disparity is felt by public schools in remote villages in the Atlas Mountains. But thanks to the Asif Astronomy Club and its founder – Ph.D. student El-Mehdi Essaidi – children in these schools have the chance to use a professional astronomical telescope to observe stars and planets for the first time.

The Asif Astronomy Club is an initiative of the scientific community that began as part of the “Telescopes for All” campaign set up by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2020. This effort was one of the many actions inherited from the 100th anniversary of the UAI set up in collaboration with the Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO), the Stars Shine for Everyone (SSVI) project “Stars Shines for All” and the Universe Awareness program of Leiden University.

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El-Mehdi presents an astronomy workshop in Ait Bounouh. Credit: Asif Astronomy Club, El Mehdi E

As the IAU states on its website, the program “aims to broaden the horizons of children, parents, and educators, to spark an interest in science, and to promote equal opportunity to pursue a career in astronomy. “. The program is conducted under the supervision of the Moroccan National Awareness Committee (CNO) for the dissemination of astronomy to the general public, which represents Morocco at the IAU.

As one of seventeen underserved communities selected by the campaign, the Asif n Ait Bounouh Association for Culture and Awareness (AABACA) in southern Morocco received a telescope donated by the equipment manufacturer BRESSER scientists. The Asif Astronomy Club, led by AABACA member El-Mehdi Essaidi, has been offering astronomy workshops with this astronomical telescope in school districts in southern Morocco since 2020. As El-Mehdi told Universe Today by email:

“[The] Asif Astronomy Club is a scientific club affiliated with the Asif n Ait Bounouh association for culture and awakening. It was created after the association won an International Astronomical Union (IAU) telescope in an international astronomy partnership competition.

“One of the objectives of this club is to work on simplifying astronomy for children and to involve them in introductory workshops and conferences to develop their scientific skills – particularly in the regions of Ait Bounouh and from Tafraoute in southern Morocco. It was created to become the first official club in the territories affiliated with the association, but also to bring children closer to astronomical culture and facilitate partnerships with other associations in the municipality of Tafraoute.

In 2019, El-Mehdi was a summer student at the Nuclear Physics Laboratory of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. After winning the IAU telescope, he started the Asif Astronomy Club to share his love of astronomy with children living in remote areas of southern Morocco, which he does through a series of educational workshops. The last workshop of the Club (entitled “ITRI WASIF 4”) took place on April 02n/a in Ammelne, a remote town in the Little Atlas mountain range at the southern tip of Morocco.

As Essaidi indicated, the main objectives of this workshop are:

  • Identify scientific and methodological approaches related to astronomy
  • Get to know the solar system we belong to and the planets it contains
  • Learn about the telescope and its role in analyzing astronomical objects in a logical and material way

The workshops are divided into two parts: a theoretical part and a practical part. The first part consists of a theoretical presentation on the solar system, its planets, its most important characteristics and the position of the Earth in it. Students will then complete activities where they will list the planets in order and present about them, followed by a question and answer session. The second segment includes students using binoculars and the IAU award-winning telescope in the schoolyard. As Essaid explained:

“Students used the telescope while looking at the Moon and the Sun in the courtyard of the school. Using this advanced technological method allows students to recognize the Moon and the Sun by looking at them directly with the astronomical telescope after getting to know them theoretically from the workshop presentation.

As part of their workshop, children use an IAU-awarded telescope to observe the Moon and Sun in their schoolyard. Credit: AABACA/SSVI/IAU/Asif Astronomy Club, El-Medhi E.

In addition to Tafraout, the Telescopes for All initiative has led to community science initiatives in public schools in the provinces of Tata and Tiznit in southern Morocco, where the number of trained students has exceeded 150 students. Moad Radgui is a community activist from the Kedourt region in the Afla Aghir community, located at the southernmost tip of the Little Atlas range. As he shared in a recent interview with Al Jazeera Net:

“These workshops are an opportunity for children who suffer from a lack of extracurricular activities in remote areas, and offer them opportunities to open up to scientific fields outside school curricula, and to understand the horizons of other sciences, to seek out more information that would support and enhance their talents.

Despite the lack of funding for education and infrastructure in these areas, the Asif Astronomy Club and AABACA have created partnerships with local associations, educational institutions and art festivals. Although the Club is not associated with any international astronomy and education initiatives, it is something they hope to establish shortly. As indicated by El-Medhi, these partnerships will allow the children of Morocco to share their experiences with children from abroad and to establish common actions.

“One of our plans is to partner with the ‘Tifawin Festival’ in the Tafraout region, which promotes the amazing local culture, to integrate astronomy into this festival and share it with children,” said he declared. “Indeed, we would like to have much simpler astronomical equipment for children, and why not an astronomical observatory in the Tafraoute region?”

Students observe the Sun and Moon using the IAU telescope in their schoolyard. Credit: AABACA/SSVI/IAU/Asif Astronomy Club, El-Medhi E.

Education and outreach initiatives like these, which enable partnerships between international organizations and community-based efforts, help make astronomy and space more accessible. Along with the growth of the commercial space industry and the emergence of new space agencies, it is clear that the future of space exploration will be characterized by cooperation between government and industry, and nations around the world. entire.

Around the world, efforts on behalf of governments, industry, and non-profit organizations are leveraging modern technology to bring astronomy education to underserved communities. By inspiring young people to pursue careers in the field, these efforts are helping to train the next generation of researchers, astrophysicists and astronauts.

Further reading: Asif Astronomy Club, Al Jazeera Network

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