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A group of 60 children from our basic schools in Pokuase benefited from the Summer School Outreach programme organised by the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI)  and had the rare opportunity to meet a group of astronomers and engineers from the international community. GSSTI is an arm of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, and established on January 01, 2011 as a research and academic hub to steer and manage all space science and related projects and programmes.

Dr. Bernard Duah Asabere, the Manager and lead local scientist of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory made this visit possible. He arrived with a team of eight instructors from the West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers-2017 (WAISSYA-2017) on 26th of July, 2017, at the Pokuase Methodist 1 & 2 Basic Schools.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. Duah Asabere told all present about the purpose of this outreach i.e. to give basic schools the opportunity to learn Astronomy and related technologies. He also mentioned job prospects in the country and beyond in the field, and encouraged the students to study harder and aspire to be part of the workforce in future.

As a basic introduction, Dr. Patrice Okuoma, a research scientist (NOMMO) from the University of South Africa (UNISA) and University of Western Cape (UWC), showed students pictures depicting the size of the eight planets. He stated that in our solar system, the sun is the biggest body.

Inquisitive students took the opportunity to ask these scientists why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Dr. Duah Asabere explained that in 2006, Pluto, though known at that time as the ninth planet, was rejected because it did not satisfy the entirety of requirements specified for planets.

Dr. Finbarr Odo, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nigeria, introduced students to the “phases of the moon”. He emphasized that even though the names given to these phases are the same, when the moon is viewed from the earth it appears in the reverse e.g the shape of a moon in a first quarter crescent is a reverse of a third quarter crescent.

Some students asked whether the moon at a point in time could only been seen by those with special eyes. He explained that some people have claimed to be the first to see the moon when it moves from the new moon to crescent phase.

Others students wanted to know how eclipse of the sun occurs. Sudum Esaenwi, from Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) gave a descriptive explanation of this by making three students stand in a straight line, with the tallest person in the middle as the moo  and the other two as the sun and the earth respectively. When this alignment happens, the moon blocks the sun rays from reaching the earth. The students were satisfied.

Doctoral candidate Jeilai Zhang, from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (Department of Astronomy, Toronto, Canada), engaged the students in the “Solar system games”. Students were asked to identify the planets, after being shown a short video and pictures of natural sceneries. Students were excited and had fun as everyone wanted to be the first to answer and get it right.

Students were astonished when Dr. Esaenwi explained how planets and living organisms emerged seemingly out of nowhere many many thousand of years ago. He presented a documentary showing how particles in space gradually developed into planets. Over time, and given favourable conditions, microorganisms could emerge, survive and grow per conditions present on the planet. On planet Earth, conditions were favourable for growth so these microorganisms eventually evolved, more complex life forms came into being, and from this ancestry came humans.

The visit extended and reinforced what students will /learn about astronomy through activities, videos, demos and focused explanations. We’re so thankful to all our visitors for bringing astronomy to life for our kids and for evoking so many new questions for them!

Credit: Priscilla Awuah. Many thanks for Dr. Asabere for editorial input.