The Columba Project: Astronomy for Peace

By | December 3, 2019


I remember when I was a school kid
and I used to wait for the bus to go to school I could see the mountains in the north,
the Pentadactilos, or the Besparmak mountains, and at that point obviously there was tensions,
and you couldn’t go there, and everything I knew about these mountains
were the stories that my mom had told me, always wondering what it was like
on the other side of the island I imagined that there were also people in the north
who would look to the south and wonder what it was like there
like I did when I was a child. When I found out about this project,
Astronomy for peace It suddenly seemed like
such an ideal time to get the children from both sides of the island to meet each other To dispel this myth of them and us. GalieoMobile is a science education project that has a goal to share astronomy
with young people around the world. We wanted to use astronomy to bring together
the two communities in Cyprus, and to use the sky as something that they both share. Columba is a constellation, it’s the Dove constellation, which is a well-known symbol of peace. So we thought it would be nice
to have this as the name of our project. The primary goal of the project
is to promote meaningful communication between children and adults of the two communities
living in Cyprus, and also to promote the feeling of global citizenship, in which we focus on our similarities
rather than our differences. I think this project is extremely important
in Cyprus at the specific moment in time since, even though the checkpoints on the island
have been opened since 2003, the separation has been way longer,
we have been separated for more than 50 years, and this requires the increase of contact
between the two communities, if we are to live together on this shared space
that is called Cyprus. So the goal is that the children learn
through inquiry and through hands-on activities about astronomy and about the Universe, by asking questions and trying to find the answers together. Ok, so what I want us to do today is to make our own Golden Record,
from Cyprus, ok? So, what we would want to send to an alien civilisation
that would be representative of all of Cyprus. This is a very nice activity It’s based on the Golden Record
that’s on the Voyager spacecrafts that were launched in the 70s
well, it was more symbolic than anything, but, if these spacecrafts were
to ever be intercepted by an alien civilisation for us to give kind of a token of Earth. So, for example, images of people,
images of natural landscapes, animals, sounds of Cyprus,
which could include sounds of nature, animals, music, different musics from the island, our languages, different languages that are
spoken on our island, food of Cyprus and, I want to know if you have other ideas
of topics that you think would be important… And this is really great because
it gives the children an opportunity to discuss about different things they want to send
that are representative of all of Cyprus, that are actually similar
between the different communities in Cyprus, but also the differences,
which are very interesting. So, yes, so the idea is
t0o build a Golden Record from Cyprus as a representation of our country,
of our common land. -What music do you like of Cyprus? We will find sounds, but also music. Galaxies do not live by themselves,
in isolation always. Galaxies also can interact with each other. And then, when they crash, what happens… One of the activities also was about galaxies, and one of the main things
we wanted to explain to the kids was that you know, if you crash two spiral galaxies together,
you’ll likely get an elliptical galaxy. I think that there’s a nice parallel
to what’s going on here, where you have these two communities merging together, and the different cultures,
and traditions, and languages, and religions, and I think in the end this makes
makes this place richer, and we should embrace these differences
rather than shy away from them. If the Earth were two millimetres,
how big would the other planets be? One of the activities, which is a favourite,
is “the Earth as a peppercorn”, where we create a model of the Solar System,
where we say, imagine if the whole Earth were the size of just a peppercorn,
about two millimetres, what do you think the sizes of
the other planets would be? Let’s say, of the four rocky planets,
and then the four gas giants, in comparison to this peppercorn
which is the Earth? These guys are much smaller
than the big four gas giants -What’s the distance between Mars and Earth? -Thirteen meters -See how small Mars is?
And imagine that Mars is even smaller than Earth And how far away Mars is from the Sun?
Which is all the way over there… This helps give the children an idea
of the scale of the Solar system How big the distances are between
the different planets in the Solar System and how much empty space there is
where there’s nothing -And then the distance between
Saturn and Uranus is 240 meters So we would have to go another
400 meters to get to the end of the Solar system Once you get a perspective of how
huge the Solar system is which is just our immediate vicinity you then of course can understand
how huge galaxies are and how huge the Universe is. Astronomy can give us this sense
of global citizenship because it reveals our place in
the Universe. and it gives us this cosmo-vision of how small,
and vulnerable, and meaningless the Earth is in the vast arena of the Universe. I think this can indeed help children
to develop this ability of multiple perspectives. of seeing things from different angles
and from different perspectives. If we look from the perspective of Earth
we see this shape in the sky. But if we left Earth, and we went
to another planet, far away from our Sun we would not see the stars
in the same way, they would have a different shape. Constellations are groups of stars
that you see in the sky and they seem to be grouped together but these stars can actually be
at very different distances from Earth. It depends on where you are in the Galaxy
the way the constellation looks. We’re gonna make the constellation
of Columba, which is the constellation of the project What we want to do is to build
these constellations in 3D hang strings and beads, and so each bead
will be representative of a star and the length of the string will be indicative
of the distance of the star from the Earth. We purposefully mixed the groups up and had
Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking children together So they couldn’t speak to each other, to say, could you pass me the scissors,
or, could you help me with this thing but they just managed to do it. I mean, we were obviously there to help them,
but they just started interacting and the barrier between them… I think Astronomy can really help children
to develop this ability of multiple perspectives of seeing things from different angles
and different perspectives and that if you looked at things from
a different lens you could maybe understand them better,
and get a more full picture of the situation which I think is applicable to Cyprus. I mean, when you start to look at their point of view
you can understand them. and understanding a person, a people,
can increase your empathy. We should understand that peace
is a process. So change is not gonna happen
from one day to the other. Kids and educators who are interested
in each other. who are interested in learning
about each other. that is the first step
of this process. That will eventually pave the way
for more interaction and for the deconstruction of
these barriers both in people’s minds and hearts. And if we can really get rid of this ingrained
feeling of fear of the other side from a young age, I think that
could be the best possible way to promote peace on the island. (Excerpt from ‘The Pale Blue Dot’,
Carl Sagan) It has been said that astronomy
is a humbling and character-building experience There is perhaps no better demonstration
of the folly of human conceit than this distant image
of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility
to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish
the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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