Viva and Michael met in 2012 while working day jobs as civil servants in Ottawa, Ontario. By night, they were community activists and astronomy enthusiasts. The friends set up a Celestron telescope one night in the city’s downtown to observe Jupiter. Little did they know they would inadvertently generate quite a bit of public interest that night. They did it again, and again... each time witnessing the excitement of a passerby seeing Saturn, Jupiter, the Moon for the first time. They watched strangers become friends under the stars. The energy was infectious.
This accidental “pop-up telescope” initiative launched into #popscope, a small project with big dreams. The project aspired to put a telescope in every neighbourhood. With support of the Awesome Foundation and some of the world’s best volunteers, #popscope expanded its community-based astronomy programming to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Jacksonville, and New York City. Today, #popscope is an urban movement that seeks to address problems concerning community engagement, STEM education, and the use of public spaces.
For instance, many cities are divided along ethnic and class lines, with few opportunities for people of different backgrounds to interact and learn from one another. Not every student has an equal chance at becoming an astronaut or astrophysicist. Urban public spaces can be sites for recreational, physical, or educational activities open to all, but often go underutilized and underappreciated. We at #popscope believe that public astronomy programming, especially pop-up astronomy events, can be part of the solution to these problems.
For thousands of years, the night sky has inspired and brought people and communities together. Through #popscope, we hope to bring people together for many more.