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ASTROBLOG: A Trip to the Netherlands!

by Matthew Whithouse, Boeing Observatory Manager

Leiden Observatory

Leiden Observatory

Leiden Observatory, Leiden, Netherlands. Images: Matthew Whitehouse.

One of the most fascinating things about astronomy is that it is an international field. Astronomy is global by its very nature: we all share the same sky, regardless of nationality or location on Earth. In early October, I traveled to Leiden, Netherlands, to attend the 2015 Universe Awareness (UNAWE) International Workshop. UNAWE is an organization based at Leiden University which engages children around the world in science and technology through the excitement of astronomy.*


Students at a UNAWE event in Venezuela create a dance performance based on Milky Way origin stories from Egyptian, Greek, Mayan, and African cultures. Image: UNAWE Venezuela.

UNAWE develops educational materials, forms partnerships with a global network of astronomy educators, and trains teachers all over the world. A key goal of UNAWE is to use the inspiration of astronomy to foster kids’ sense of world citizenship. This year’s workshop, held in conjunction with the United Nations’ World Space Week, was attended by 65 astronomers and educators representing 23 countries.

Some of you may know that I am a musician as well as an astronomer. As part of the workshop, I gave a presentation on using music to teach astronomy. I believe that this may have been the first international conference presentation by a State Museum educator.

Obseravtory Manager Matthew Whitehouse gives a presentation

SC State Museum Boeing Observatory Manager Matthew Whitehouse (left) preparing for his astronomy/music presentation with the help of UNAWE International Project Manager Pedro Russo (right). Image: UNAWE.

I also attended interactive sessions on teaching astronomy to kids with disabilities, and training museum/science center presenters. It was amazing to learn about education efforts around the world: portable planetarium and telescope outreach in Kenya, teaching astronomy to disaster-stricken kids in the Philippines, efforts to connect with refugee children in Europe, among others. As I interacted with other workshop participants, I found as many opportunities as I could to share the amazing things we’re doing right here in South Carolina with the museum’s Boeing Observatory.

Tactile Sun Model

A tactile Sun model. Observatory Manager Matthew Whitehouse made this model during a workshop on teaching astronomy to students with disabilities. Image: Matthew Whitehouse.

Another highlight was a visit to the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC), a major facility associated with the European Space Agency. We also had a wonderfully engaging tour of Leiden Observatory, home to historic telescopes much like our 1926 Alvan Clark at the museum. Finally, I got cool ideas for new museum activities at an educational resource fair put on by workshop participants.

Leiden Observatory telescope

One of the Leiden Observatory telescopes. This is a refracting (lens-based) telescope designed specifically for photographing the sky. Image: Matthew Whitehouse.

The world of astronomy education is a global village, with local efforts fueled by international collaboration. I share my experience in Leiden to offer an international perspective on the awesome things we’re doing right here in South Carolina. Our local work here at the Boeing Observatory truly is part of a larger effort to engage people around the world with the wonders of the universe.


Did you know? The SC State Museum’s Boeing Observatory is open late on Tuesday nights for public observing. Click HERE to learn more.

*PLEASE NOTE: My travel to the Netherlands was not funded by the State Museum or State of South Carolina.