STAR-STRUCK IN THE HOME OF THE CENTAURS reported by Barbie Drillsma


Dolomites at Night Who could resist it?  An invitation to represent EUSJA at an international “Discover the Cosmos” Conference in the home of the Centaurs in Volos, Greece.

Hmmmm, slightly had second thoughts as I joined fellow EUSJA members, Wolfgang Goede and Menelaos Sotiriou on board a shakey wooden train, running on a single track with sheer drops either side, to an altitude of 400 m above Volos, to a tiny traditional village, Pelion Milies.

It was here in the tiny orthodox church of Greatest Taxiarhes that a centuries’ old faded wall painting of the Zodiac Circle or Circle of Life can be found.  This was of huge interest to the group of more than 100 scientists, astronomers, physics teachers and students attending the conference. The painting  marks out the constellations through which the sun appears throughout the year. Some believed it could be used to tell fortunes.Volos Astronomie 014.2

My role was to conduct a science café along the lines of the successful EUSJA prototypes. And what fun it was. Pamela Gay, an astronomer from Southern Illinois University soon had people wearing constellation t-shirts, mapping in a cobbled square, the path of the sun and moon and showing how you can use the constellations to show planets, galaxies and objects within them.

Many of the participants were astronomers and even they did not plant themselves in the correct format, many forgetting Ophiuchus (I didn’t know about this constellation either).

 Volos Astronomie 003.3I gave a brief history of the strong links between astrology and astronomy since Renaissance days when no leader, King or Queen would make any decisions without first consulting the court astrologer/astronomer.  And I pointed out that after all the fuss of the press waiting for the royal baby to appear there wasn’t much to report other than it was a healthy boy.  That is until one hack mentioned it was a full moon and full moons affect, not only the tides but pregnant women’s amniotic fluids!

This dubious fact soon broke not the waters but the ice and with the aid of carefully targeted stress balls, which Menelaos had hauled along with us, we soon had people interacting with each other. The pace heated up when laminated photographs of stars and planets taken by an Iranian photographer, Babak A. Tafreshi and colleagues from twanight.org were given as prizes.Volos Astronomie 025.4

When I asked if any delegates regularly read their horoscopes just six people raised their hands.  Interestingly when pressed and cajoled more people admitted they did indeed check their horoscopes but didn’t at first want to admit it. This immediately generated debate amongst tables. And it was good to see a bunch of strangers laughing and chatting together.

Volos Astronomie 032.5Wolfgang and I both chaired sessions and were complemented on the professional way in which we conducted ourselves! We were there for three days and confirmed for us the importance of networking on behalf of EUSJA.  Swimming in the sea we made friends with Dr Mick Storr from CERN who has promised to help us with an EUSJA study trip. We distributed leperellos and although there weren’t any science journalists present, delegates have promised to pass them on to their press contacts in their home countries.GroupPhoto-GHOU2013-2s.7

 Science Cafes are excellent and relatively inexpensive ways to meet large groups of people and get over the importance of good communication. If any of you are planning or have held such events please let us know and we’ll publicise them for you.

PICTURES (c)

Top: Night Skies (c) Babak A. Tafreshi, www.tawnight.org
2: historical train ride (c) WC Goede,
3: Barbie Drillsma and Babak A. Tafreshi, astronomist, lecturer and photographer (c) WC Goede
4: Science Cafe (c) WC Goede
5: Barbie Drillsma and Rosa Doran, Science Cafe Organizer, WC Goede
Bottom: Science Cafe participants, (c) dtc conference

The Science Cafe was part of DISCOVER the COSMOS CONFERENCE, e-Infrastructure for an Engaging Science Classroom >>> http://dtc-conference.ea.gr. A report will be presented shortly. “The Anti Fire Hosing Approach” will look into new methods to present science in education and how science journalists can profit from it.

About Wolfgang C. Goede

Wolfgang C. Goede is a science journalist based in Munich, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Science Writers TELI.