Amateur astronomers take stargazing to Kabul

By Hannah King
BBC News

image captionKits will contain basics such as pencils, as well as dedicated star-gazing tools

A campaign is being launched to take astronomy to schools, orphanages and refugee camps throughout Afghanistan.

Amateur astronomers, government officials and science communicators are behind the project, which will dole out star-gazing kits first around Kabul.

The Reach for the Stars project will establish the country's first astronomy curriculum for young children.

Drawing on the rich heritage of astronomy under Islam, the campaign hopes to expand to other countries too.

"During the so called 'dark ages' in Europe, Islamic civilisation championed both astronomy and physics, shaping our modern science," said Christopher Phillips, who is leading the project.

"In more recent times this has been suppressed; it was taught that the skies were the realm of Allah, and astronomical study and investigation were un-Islamic and forbidden.

"Now we want to help Afghan children regain ownership of their astronomical heritage and take advantage of its educational opportunities."

Kit form

The joint initiative of the international organisation Astronomers Without Borders and the Afghanistan Astronomy Association, with support from Afghanistan's Ministry of Education, will send astronomy kits to schools, orphanages and refugee camps around Kabul.

image captionThe project aims to restore astronomy to the place it had previously in Islamic societies

The kits will include The Little Book of Stars, a specially written introductory text for young Afghan children.

It will cover astronomical topics from A-Z accompanied by cartoon illustrations, in English and Pashto, the language spoken by Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.

As many schools lack even the most basic classroom materials, the kits will also include pencils, pens and paper.

Solar viewing glasses, star charts and simple astronomy learning exercises will teach children the movements of the Sun and planets.

"The kits are designed to familiarise children with the Universe on a basic level," said Mr Phillips.

"They're a guide to our own stellar backyard."

The book and the kits will be designed to avoid cultural controversies - for example, avoiding picturing boys and girls playing together.

Once established around Kabul, the programme will expand to cover the rest of Afghanistan.

The eventual aim is to reach other parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

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