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Boston #popscope: urban public astronomy

When was the last time you looked at the Moon’s craters, Saturn’s rings, or Jupiter’s moons?

#popscope, short for “pop-up telescope,” brings free astronomy observing to the public. When the skies are clear, we “pop-up” in different neighborhoods to promote community-building through science. We aim to 1) encourage social interactions that challenge norms and spatial boundaries, 2) contribute to discourse about how public spaces are used and allocated, and 3) educate diverse communities about science and astronomy. #popscope was started in Ottawa, Canada in 2014 and now has a presence in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and NYC. The #popscope network is entirely volunteer-run and operates on a very lean budget.

#popscope is highly mobile: we aim to bring science to the people by visiting diverse neighborhoods that can vary by race and class. To make our gatherings as successful as possible, we work with community leaders to bring telescopes to neighborhoods in an inclusive, safe, sensitive manner. We use social media to announce the location and date of events, and we encourage guests to post photos and ask questions on #popscope’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Though Boston is home to world-class institutions of higher learning, popular science museums, and a strong amateur astronomy community, there is appetite for more public astronomy outreach. With just one telescope over the last three months, for example, our team has hosted a dozen pop-up astronomy events for over 300 Bostonians of all ages and backgrounds. We also partnered with the Boston Children’s Museum to host two successful daytime solar observation events event for children.

With the support of an Awesome Boston grant, Boston #popscope can do even more: connect the dots among Boston’s residents, K-12 schools, universities, museums, and amateur astronomers and make Boston a “Hub” for exciting community-based astronomy!

Funded by Boston, MA (April 2017)