Monday, April 7, 2014

Celestial events to watch out for in 2014

This year presents us an entire array of amazing night sky events to dazzle all skywatchers across the spectrum.
The infographic below lists some of these rare spectacles.

For more resources on all these, go to for detailed explanations of the infographic. We would also like to invite everyone out there who is interested to contribute to our astronomy images gallery. If you take a "share worthy" night-sky picture please send images and comments (including your name and the photo's location) to us at Keep looking up!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Braeburn Space Day

Hands-On Universe has been undergoing an overhaul. It explains why we haven’t had a blog post since before last year’s hybrid solar eclipse on November 3rd. Since coming back from Turkana we have been busy with plenty of Science outreach activities all over the country and its amazing meeting people from all walks of life all equally impressed by the spectacle that is our cosmos. During our travels, we come across kindred spirits who spur us on to greater things. We are happy to state that we are expanding our mission, and we’re bringing on a new organization to help us realize our vision of inspiring minds all over the world. “The Travelling telescope”.

The Travelling Telescope project was founded by Daniel “Chu” Owen in the UK and is focused on bringing astronomy to people from all walks of life in a unique and interactive way by hosting informal stargazing events at various locations around the country. The Travelling Telescope visits give members of the public the rare opportunity to look through a telescope for the first time and experience a guided tour of the local night sky. Astronomy can be a tricky subject to grasp, and a myriad of factors such as light pollution in cities & cloud cover often get in the way of proper sky observations. The TT effectively goes around this problem because being mobile means it’s able to avoid bright city lights and go around unfavorable weather patterns. Africa H.O.U deemed it wise to team up with this wonderful project & mind to add depth to our programmes as well as expand our reach to the entire country.  It’s exciting, this new direction we’re heading and we’ll certainly do our best to share the story of our journey with you.
Friday 28th February was not just any other day. It was Braeburn School’s space day. Jonathan Andrews, the Prep school’s head of Science had certainly put tremendous effort in making the event a success. We got there early in the morning and began setting up our equipment. The Telescopes and film screenings would take place in the high school, and the mobile planetarium in the elementary school.

Soon we would be swamped in crowds of curious children, seemingly anxious to peer through the telescopes and get a chance to go into the planetarium. From Jonathan who came dressed in an authentic NASA jumpsuit to the little kids in Darth Vader costumes complete with light sabers there was no doubt what the theme of the day was. It was a great day out and the atmosphere was electric when middle school students showcased their home made rockets. Some got lift, some fizzled and sputtered on the ground but the theme was an excellent opportunity for the children to learn about space exploration and the setbacks mankind has had to overcome throughout the space age.  We believe exposure to the advancements in science help expand young minds’ thought process and encourages inquiry based learning. Children and young people need to be empowered as decision makers in their own future; and this includes enabling their parents and supporters to make educational decisions with them from an early age in the way that Braeburn and all the other schools we have had the opportunity to work with do.
Soon the sun was setting subtly in the west and our day was done. There was already talk of a subsequent night event to follow shortly afterwards. We are happy to announce that Braeburn School, Garden Estate will be hosting the Travelling Telescope’s “Space Night:The Journey continues” on Friday, 23rd May 2014. More details on that event will be featured on our website, Facebook & Twitter pages.

Our  film “Good Luck, & Clear Skies: African Eclipse 2013” which debuted on 27th February at the Best Western Premier rooftop has also been receiving great response from all audiences, you can check it out here
As always, we are thankful to all our supporters and critics for all the tremendous support. The Travelling telescope project is one of the first mobilization and mutual learning action plans, leading to new ways of doing research and developing technologies which encompass societal needs and concerns here in Africa. We’re proud to be behind the new wave of thinkers that will change the world!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The "Man on The Moon" series

Hands-on Universe Africa was at it again! This time, with a bold, new concept that has never been done locally before. We were bringing astronomy to the mall. As astronomers in this age, we're still inspired by Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon during the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. That single moment changed history, It was man's first landing on another world, the realization of centuries of dreams, the fulfilment of a decade of striving, a triumph of modern technology and personal courage, the most dramatic demonstration of what man can do if he applies his mind and resources with single-minded determination.
The moon, long the symbol of the impossible and the inaccessible, was now within man's reach, the first port of call in this new age of space-faring.

It was with that in mind that we dubbed our pilot event at Galleria Shopping Mall "Man on The Moon" in an effort to capture the boldness of that moment & the inspiration behind it. 
This time we were going to spend all day working on our curiosity trail at the shopping mall, Different.
The aim of the "MOTM" project is to publicize astronomy  at a popular level, choosing a place that best matches the meaning  of the word “popular”: The Galleria Shopping Mall. With this project we want to arouse consumer interest in astronomy, Making use of the shopping mall; A place people are familiar with & where they find  common consumer goods. Today we can assert that these new peripheral spaces are becoming a sort of favoured “meeting point” for all kinds of people: Shopping malls are drastically changing their social roles & assuming a high enrolment, communication and experience value.
For our debut, the mall management (and us) thought it would be wise to have a series of test runs at the mall in order to test the reception in anticipation for the main event in a few day's time.
As always we got at the mall early, on Friday 11th October to set up the planetarium equipment & astronomy exhibit (YES, we even brought our telescopes out!!) 
The Galleria Shopping mall staff were instrumental in the success of this pilot project & they were on hand to offer technical & logistical support every step of the way. As soon as the planetarium dome went up you could tell there was something great about to happen. The few shoppers milling around buying breakfast snacks before rushing to their places of work stepped up to inquire what was going on & we wasted no time in bringing them up to speed.
Finally we were set up, the Galleria floor manager walked up to us & asked us to immediately report at the management offices...
Was there something wrong? Were they having second thoughts about the entire project? Our minds were running wild in an effort to figure out what had cut.

Salma, the Galleria Mall administrator who had summoned us was waiting, & she wasted no time to inform us that she was expecting a group of students from Nawiri Jnr School! GAME ON!
The students checked in, we carefully ushered them into the dome and just like that we were doing what we do best-inspiring young minds.
As the day progressed we got more & more curious minds looking through the telescopes, sampling the amazing science videos we were screening and best of all, going into the planetarium for the sessions.

The response from the mall shoppers was extremely positive and encouraging! The genius behind this concept is that it really enables us to reach everybody, even people who do not care about astronomy in general & we're able to change public perceptions on Astronomy outside the Classroom!
I am starting to think the planetarium might be a time travel machine of sorts because before long, it was dusk. Time to pack up and go home.
Sunday's sessions were even better. Traffic in the mall was busting & at this point we would like to give credit to our volunteers Nick, Sheila, Peter, & Mary. We would not have achieved the same level of competence & excellence were it not for their selfless assistance during both days. They helped us handle the big crowds that were shuffling around the dome throughout the day.

Another moment of note on Sunday was when the Mall security gave us a heads up that they were expecting some V VIPs, we were obviously excited about this but we had a job to do that day & we went on with our program. Later we learnt that the high ranking visitors were the President & Deputy President of our republic! Sadly, they did not visit our exhibition but i can imagine how awesome it would have been, maybe next time. 
What we at H.O.U are glad to be a part of is the spirit of Kenyan resilience that reigns supreme in every Kenyan heart, we recently had the worst terror attacks at West-gate Shopping mall in which many innocent Kenyans lost their lives & scores others got injured. The attacks did little to dampen the Kenyan spirit to venture out & be free; here we were smack in the middle of the atrium of yet another shopping mall with the president & his deputy a few yards away each one of us going about their lives because that is what being Kenyan is all about-Being able to pick up the pieces & make the best of life's fleeting moments.
We had such a splendid time at the mall that day doing cool astronomy it was sad when the last session was done & it was once again time to pack up.
The good news is that we'll be back at Galleria Shopping Mall as part of the Halloween "Man On The Moon" experience of 2013, a prelude to the total solar eclipse in Turkana on the 3rd of November 2013.
The intrigues of all that will be documented and shared as they unfold. 
We want to drive people’s interests toward unfamiliar concepts using familiar ambience. The approach is innovative; We intend to deliver information & arouse curiosity.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Our little stars in the planetarium at Kilimani Junior Academy

Hands on Universe Africa is back to business after a hiatus! During the break we underwent a structural overhaul & now we are back better than ever. We recently acquired a portable mobile planetarium which we will use as a supplement in our programmes with various schools locally. It includes interactive astronomy software which is key in teaching astronomy to children in this age.

Our first field activity was hosted by Kilimani Junior Academy in Karen & we were very excited to be back to doing science with kids! We intended to spend the entire day at the school & as expected got there quite early in the morning amped to get started with the day's activities. 
We got there at around 10 a.m on Monday 16th and we were immediately ushered into one of the school's hall where we would set up the planetarium dome.

As soon as we got round to unpacking the equipment the lights went out. On inquiry we learnt that the utility provider (Kenya Power) were conducting scheduled maintenance in the area & that it would take a while until they were done.

We had not anticipated this setback and everyone around slumped in their seats in the school's dining hall. The faces of the children in classes nearby who were peering at this developing story painted a grim picture. We decided to make the best of the situation & set about going through the intended program while fine tuning a few details of our presentation silently hoping that the power would  be restored. 

Finally, the fluorescent tubes crackled to life at around 1:30 pm right after lunch & we immediately sprung to action. We quickly set up the dome and got the teachers to coordinate the students into groups since we were going to do everything it would take to see as many kids as possible given the small window of opportunity we had.

The students lined up outside & just from their chatter you could tell that the height of their curiosity was reaching fever pitch. Slowly, steadily, they shuffled (sometimes stumbled) into the dome & boy didn't we blow their minds away! The "ooohs" & "aahhhs" were any educator's dream response. The students' age was a sample of eight to thirteen year old boys and girls, at some point even teachers & other administrative staff joined us in the dome to have a look, there was never a dull moment, not once.

That is the impact (in my opinion) Astronomy has on the human mind. It sparks the imagination and sends it reeling to worlds beyond our borders & when you finally look back, you realise how beautiful our rocky outpost is.

Soon it was time to go home, the kids loved it so much they begged their headteacher to have us back as soon as possible. She agreed! We will be going back to their school on their Family fun day. We shall post the details on subsequent blogs. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Annular Eclipse, and Mentor program January 2010

Our year has started off well. We received a telescope donated by Mark Moldwin of University of Michigan USA. I am sure the students in Kenya will enjoy viewing objects in our night sky with this telescope, we really appreciate the kind gesture and the partnership HOU Africa and USA continue to share. 

The Kenya High School Interact-HOU club also received a laptop donated by the El Cerrito Interact club. The laptop will ease the communication for meetings between the two clubs which is usually conducted through sightspeed and skype. We again would like to thank the club members for this kind gesture. 

On 15th January 2010, Kenya was one of the countries in Africa that experienced the annular solar eclipse. The eclipse lasted close to thirty minutes and was visible in Nairobi, Rift Valley province, Western Kenya, North Eastern and Coast provinces. Hands-on Universe Africa team were able to view the eclipse with students from Kenya High School. The protective glasses were donated to the students by University of Nairobi Physics Department in particular Dr. Paul Baki. At the University the event was open to the public who were invited for viewing. The members of the press covered the celestial event and there was good publicity of the event. 
An annular eclipse occurs when the Sun and the moon are exactly in line but because the apparent moon is smaller than the Sun, the Sun appears as a very bright ring or annulus surrounding the moon.  

Later in the day we visited Kenya High School for our usual weekly after-school program. The students wanted to learn more about astronomy so that they could share what they learnt with their friends. We dedicated the rest of the meeting to lessons on Our Solar System, questions and an answer session. 
In third week of January, we started our Mentor program between 25 Kenya High School Interact-HOU-Environment club students and 60 Kileleshwa Primary School students. The girls at Kenya High School will be assisted by some Interact students from El Cerrito interact club. The first meeting with the young students was exciting. Diana, the chair of Kenya High Interact coordinated the students from her club. After intros the group did a great job by stressing on the need for the younger students to study hard after school, do their homework on time, have time to play, enjoy their skills in other non-academic activities like sports and talent. The students from Kileleshwa entertained us with some of their skills in sports and dancing. The age of the students was varied from eight years to thirteen. 
 We had subsequent visits to the school in January. our next visit was with the class eight candidates whom we discussed the solar system and gave the students a chance to ask questions. The students learnt about all the planets in our solar system, their geographic composition and their average temperature. The Kileleshwa students later presented us with questions which we will answer on our next visit. 

The club members have an impressive tree nursery of about 60,000 tree seedlings. This project is their hugest projects under the Interact-HOU-environment club. Being a pilot project, they hope to sell the idea to other schools. They also intend to sell the seedlings to any interested parties. They hope to launch the program with the Minister for Environment in the coming months. 

It is important to promote the girl child education but we also want to work with the boys and encourage them to like Science and take up careers in science. In January we visited Nairobi School. Michael Waiyaki, a Rotaract member from Rotaract club of Nairobi Central talked to the interact club members and took them through the stages of setting up a good club. The students decided to adapt an orphanage in their locality and work with them in sports and education. the students also intend to mentor younger boys in the home. We will support the club and encourage them in all the activities they decide to undertake this year. 

Kenya High school and Nairobi School are also participants of the International Asteroid Search Campaign. We hope we get a few students from the schools to discover some asteroids. The teachers assisting are Mrs. Holi, Mr. Rugano and Mrs. Mutegi 

Monday, June 22, 2009

IHY/SCINDA 2009 Livingstone Zambia

The second IHY/SCINDA workshop was held in Livingstone Zambia on June 7th to 12th. There were many space scientists, undergraduate and graduate students in the workshop, most of whom were Africans. During the IHY opening, the guest of honour was the Minister for Science and Technology Hon. Gabriel Namulambe, other guests included the Vice Chancellor University of Zambia Prof. Stephen simukanga and the dean of University of Zambia, sponsors and other representative organizations.

I was requested to give an oral presentation and this was an opportunity for me to recruit more African countries to the Hands-on Universe and Universe Awareness programs. Other than my presentation I decided to do a little demonstration on one of the astronomy software we use in the classrooms with students.  Of course so many students and professors showed interest in developing the same activities in their countries. I managed to give some of the students the software, which they immediately installed on their laptops. I also had an opportunity to meet Prospery Simpemba, the NPoC for SGAC Zambia

I also set some time aside for training some of the interested students on the readily available software. This team building allowed us to share our thoughts and ideas as African educators interested in promoting Astronomy in schools. We also shared our experiences and decided to create a network where we can always communicate and share different resources and also network our students across Africa.


I was invited by Mr. Mokhtar Mohsen, a physics teachers at Hillcrest Technical high school to give a talk to his students. This was an opportunity for me to visit the school with the trained students and so I decided to visit the school with some of the undergraduate physics students from University of Zambia. Hillcrest Technical High school is a boarding mixed school less than 1 km from the conference venue (Fairmount Hotel Livingstone).  The teacher was eager to have us at the school and he even came to pick us in his saloon car. Since we were a large group some of us decided to take the longer route and walk to the school.  We were a team of 10 students and young professionals, comprising 8 Zambian undergraduate students, 1 Congolese student and myself.

We found the students patiently waiting at the hall. After the introduction, we introduced the basic science concepts and then presented the stellarium software to the students. Emphasis on the need to protect our plant was one of the key topics and there were many ideas that the students came up with on how we could change our home for a better place.  The highlight of the lesson was after a demonstration of stellarium when the students had lots of questions about the blackhole and how stars are formed and how they die. Melody and Nawa undergraduate students at University of Zambia attempted to answer some of the questions. I installed all the software on the teacher’s machine, we hope that the students will have access to the software and we will be able to do more activities with the students. The school has Internet connection so I hope we will be able to keep in touch and share more resources.

After the session, some of the students followed us to ask questions about careers in space science. We each spent some time with small groups of students encouraging them to form an astronomy club and keep in touch with us. The Zambian team were excited that the students looked up to them as role models. One of them remarked that he was not ready to leave the school as he felt he still wanted to discuss more with the students, unfortunately we had to live as it was time for their lunch and they had to return to their afternoon session.

It was not always work but there was a good time for relaxation and team building by visiting some of the great spots in Zambia. Victoria falls (on of the seven wonders) visit at the night and during the day was an inexpressible experience.  We also went for the cruise in the Zambezi river with lots of local alcohol. I have never seen a group of excited people. Some of the evenings were spent in the nightclub dancing to our best African and western tunes. Lastly the young and elderly spent a good time

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

AstroQuiz with Kenyan Astronomy clubs

In Kenyan public schools, we have brother and sister schools. This means that every school has either a brother school if it is an all girls' school or a sister school if it an all boys' school. Kenya High's brother school happens to be Nairobi School. These two schools are only about 15 minutes drive from each other. The idea of such an arrangement is to get the students of both schools engage in exchange programs with an aim of promoting globalization from the community level. 

This week we have planned for an AstroQuiz at Kenya High school amongst the students of the HOU clubs in Kenya High School and Nairobi School. Both schools are excited but none of them is aware that their celestial knowledge will be tested. 

After waiting for the auditorium to be vacant for our group, we start our session at around 5.15 PM bearing in mind that we have exactly one hour to do our exercise. I would like to make sure that the students have a lot of fun but at the same time learn more science. 

I encourage the students to sit in both sides of the auditorium and to mix and make up teams and then we continue with a space weather computerized game with all answers. The students have one minute to listen to the question and answer before the timer goes off and the system generated game gives them the result. If their answer is correct some sound of cheers id made by the system, while if the answer is incorrect there is a sad sound made by the system. 

It was very competitive and every team that came tried to prove that they could win.

At the end of the session, I promise give them printouts on more solar system information. 

The two teachers, on form Kenya High school and the other from Nairobi school finally address the students and thereafter we end the session

I hope we can have more of these sessions soon. 

The trip was sponsored by America HOU and Pulse Health Care Ltd.