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Monday 16 August 2021

UCLan astronomers share secrets of the night sky with more than 1,200 Girlguides

Experts share knowledge with enthusiastic youngsters from all over the UK

More than 1,200 Girlguiding members from across the UK have enjoyed exploring Space during lockdown thanks to astronomy experts from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Over the last six months, astronomers from UCLan’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute (JHI) for Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy have made virtual visits to Rainbow, Brownie, Guide and Ranger units all over the country, from Portsmouth to Clackmannanshire, Caernarfonshire to Lincoln, and everywhere in between. In total, the four UCLan astronomers have spoken to more than 1,200 members of Girlguiding and helped Brownies work towards their Space interest badge.

Astrophysicist Dr Megan Argo, who began the project in January, said: “It began when a friend asked me to make a virtual visit to her Brownie group so I quickly created a virtual planetarium show that could be run over Zoom, covering a large part of the Space badge.”

"It began when a friend asked me to make a virtual visit to her Brownie group so I quickly created a virtual planetarium show that could be run over Zoom, covering a large part of the Space badge."

Astrophysicist and UCLan lecturer Dr Megan Argo

During the pandemic, many leaders in Girlguiding have managed to keep their units running through video conferencing and creative ideas for running evenings. Megan realised that other groups might be interested in a virtual planetarium show, especially given the popularity of stargazing as a family activity during lockdown.

“After posting the idea on social media, I was quickly swamped with requests from leaders around the country, so I drafted in three colleagues to help meet the demand” she said.

Making virtual visits allowed the astronomers to reach groups much further afield than they could otherwise do physically. Between them, Megan, colleague Dr Joanne Pledger, and postgraduate students Steven Gough-Kelly and Simon Ebo delivered a total of 60 planetarium shows, speaking to girls around the UK, including 13 Guide units, and even a few Girl Scouts in California.

The planetarium show included a tour of the sky, a look at the Moon and how the phases change over a month, a look at some of the constellations and how to use the stars to find North, looking at the constellations created by different cultures around the world, and virtual visits to several of the planets.

"The Guides and leaders really enjoyed the virtual planetarium experience. There was a good variety from black holes to constellations to the planets."

Christine Chapman, leader at 5th Penwortham Guide Unit

Each show ended with an opportunity for the girls to ask any space questions they had with topics covered ranging from the Moon, to how the solar system formed, to what happens if you fall into a black hole.

Christine Chapman, leader at 5th Penwortham Guide Unit in Lancashire, said: “The Guides and leaders really enjoyed the virtual planetarium experience. There was a good variety from black holes to constellations to the planets. It was great to know that we were guaranteed to see the constellations rather than keeping our fingers crossed for a clear sky.

“We are hoping to arrange a visit to the planetarium in the future so everyone can try the telescopes.”