Tuesday 1st December 2015
On a wet and windy Saturday afternoon in November the Science Oxford family team made its way to the Earth Trust in Little Wittenham, near Abingdon, to run a Spectacular Space event. Spectacular Space is designed to get families hands-on with all kinds of space-themed activities and maybe inspire some future astronauts or galactic engineers.
Despite the cold and the grey clouds, we unloaded a van-full of cool universe-related resources, including a huge inflatable planetarium which had been kindly loaned to us by colleagues at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Adam, our fantastic STEM Ambassador, arrived and was immediately put to work mixing up glue with powder paint and glitter – ready to make galaxy slime.
As the planetarium reached its full size, the first of our 125 visitors began to arrive. Children (and grown-ups) made slime, tested space nappies, created astronaut wee, modeled with moon sand and made planetary ‘volcanos’ explode by adding vinegar to bicarbonate of soda. We also had some amazingly creative new constellations designed and named by our visitors, complete with the stories of how they came to be.
We were lucky enough to have some wonderful volunteers to help us on the day, including several members of Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS), who brought along amazing space photographs, real meteorites and powerful telescopes. The NAS astronomers treated guests to several topical and very knowledgeable talks, which fascinated children and adults alike.
The Earth Trust was a great venue for Spectacular Space and staff member Jenny kept us all going with plenty of tea and delicious cakes in the café. However, I think the prize for the best cake of the event would have to go to the mum of a young boy who was celebrating his birthday at the event – she had made beautifully decorated individual ‘planet pops’ for all her son’s party guests!
The highlight of the event was the planetarium show. The Science Oxford team explored human space flight from the myth of Icarus to atsronaut Tim Peake and looked at what is in our night sky. There were some great audience questions during the show – especially from our younger guests – and I think we all left a little wiser.
All too soon it was time to wave goodbye to the last of our visitors and start the herculean task of clearing up. Luckily, the team wasn’t too exhausted and before long we’d swept up sand, mopped up pretend wee, washed up over ninety pots of slime and unsuccessfully attempted to scrub the lingering purple stains (from the slime) off our volunteers’ hands. It may be a while before the purple fingers fade but I think that staff and volunteers alike would agree that Spectacular Space was worth it!