Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon this sign in our village park during my usual afternoon walk with my dog.
A free telescope viewing! I spoke briefly with the two young astronomers to ask about their project, then rushed to the playground to invite my son and his friends to try it with me. It was about 6:00pm, still quite bright since it was a March summer afternoon, but through the telescope, we got a pretty close view of the moon! I promised to come back later that evening with the rest of my household. I’m so glad we came back at around 9:00pm. We saw not only the moon but also Jupiter, the Orion Nebula and the star Sirius! So cool!
I was so awed by the enthusiasm and generosity of Paolo and Hiromi, the duo behind The Park Astronomers. I wanted to know more about their project so I could share it with other Filipino astronomy enthusiasts and other southern Metro Manila residents who might want to support it.
Here is a Q&A with The Park Astronomers Paolo and Hiromi:
Q: What inspired you to start The Park Astronomy Project?
“Carl Sagan. We’ve read a lot of his works and he had this vision of making science fun. It was this vision of his that really pushed us into starting this project. He wanted to make science approachable to the regular person, to show others how amazing the universe is. And just like him, we want the same for the youth of the Philippines. We want to raise awareness, to educate, and to awaken the inner scientists in everyone.”
Q: How did you go about setting it up? Any challenges or obstacles so far?
“Initially, we just set up our mount and scope on our driveway with a sign saying ‘Free Telescope Viewing’ and waited for interested passersby. We moved on to setting up at our village park with the hopes of gaining a bigger audience. That’s where we got the idea of visiting different parks. As of the moment, our telescope mount is starting to give up on us. That’s one of our main obstacles. You can also say that location, village permission, as well as weather conditions are some of our challenges.”
Q: How did you become astronomy enthusiasts?
Paolo: “It all started with this video I saw back in 2009. I was amazed and humbled to see how objects can be so large yet appear so little in our sky. I gained an existential epiphany upon realizing that even with all my problems combined, it all meant very little to the universe in its entirety. Carl Sagan once said: ‘The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such creatures as we.’ I think it takes a lot to be able to grasp this reality. Ideas like this are what define me as an amateur astronomer.”
“When Hiromi and I started going out, I shared my Carl Sagan books with her. There was this one book, aptly called ‘Cosmos’ which tackled the whole universe. We enjoyed countless nights walking around my village and just talking about distant stars, galaxies, planets, even the possibility of aliens! This went on alongside my telescope until we had the idea of a free telescope viewing initiative. We wanted to share what we felt when we first saw the moon because people often take it for granted. We see the moon 2 weeks in a month but give little to no thought to what it would look like up close.”
Q: What do you hope to achieve with The Park Astronomy? How do you see it a year from now?
“A youth that is more conscious not only scientifically but also existentially. We want our participants to gain a better perspective of our place in the universe and what we can do about it. Hopefully a year from now, we’ll have extensive operations including workshops, astrocamps, focus group discussions, and have more volunteers to aid us in facilitating our activities.”
If you want to join The Park Astronomers and see the moon, stars and other planets in the night sky, check their Facebook page for updates.
If you want to help Paolo and Hiromi continue and grow The Park Astronomers project, please consider making a donation for a new telescope and for funds to support their project expenses through The Park Astronomers gofundme.com page.