Community astronomy project urges Canadians to space out

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

Viva and Michael twinkling with a few stars. Photo credit: CG

Viva and Michael, the stars of #PopScope
(photo credit: CG)

The night sky is one of those amazing human universals: it’s probably safe to say that everyone, everywhere, has at some point looked up at it and said, “Whoa.”

At least, Michael and Viva have. These two “civil servants by day, community enthusiasts by night,” are the creators of #PopScope, a new series of public astronomy nights in Ottawa, Ontario designed to reconnect people to the night sky—and to each other.

Michael was always something of an astronomy nerd. Growing up in Chicago, he had a telescope but couldn’t see much more than the moon because of the light pollution in the city. Viva grew up in India and though she loved stargazing, she never really thought she’d get the chance to look at the heavens through something like a telescope.

When the two became friends later in life and realized they both loved looking at stars, they decided to do something about it.

“We pooled our government paychecks, found a cheap telescope online, and set it up on the street,” Michael says.

What happened next was pretty amazing.

“We had a bunch of random people stop and ask us questions. There was this one guy on the street who just stopped and started telling us all about the moons of Jupiter. We figured with all this interest, maybe there’s some sort of pent-up desire in Ottawa for people to have the chance to talk about astronomy,” Michael says.

#PopScope will give people the chance to do just that. By setting up telescopes in three major areas around the city—downtown, a low-income neighborhood, and a nature preserve with darker skies—starting on this year’s Earth Hour, they’re hoping to share the wonders of the night sky with anyone who wants to drop by.

“We want to make this really accessible to everyone. The idea is to cater to people who are curious about the night sky, but maybe don’t have the means to have a telescope of their own,” Viva says.

Although telescopes tend to be on the pricey side, Viva and Michael’s dream has been made possible by the Awesome Foundation, which gives $1,000 microgrants to (awesome) community projects like #PopScope.

#PopScope isn’t the dynamic duo’s first community-building project. Last year, Viva and Michael set up a pop-up library called #BookStop to activate public spaces and encourage people to read.

“Both projects are trying to get people to have those conversations that we usually don’t have. Book Stop was with books, and #PopScope is through the night sky,” Viva explains.

And with all of its sparkling, twinkling splendor, the night sky is a pretty good conversation starter.

“The stars really touch many aspects of human culture—religion, geography, travel,” says Michael.

“But as the majority of the world becomes urbanized, we’re losing the night sky to light pollution,” he explains. “It’s too bad, because I think it’s so relaxing and calming to look at the sky and realize that all your problems are not very big compared to the size of the universe, to a star that’s hundreds of light years away.”

How do you dream about sparking conversation in your community?

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