#popscope out

Originally published 8/5/14, 12:01 PM


It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Ottawa #popscope. As many of you know, we will be moving on to different cities in the United States to pursue education-related opportunities. Before we go, we want to share a few of our thoughts and emotions, challenges and lessons  – for those of you who are interested and for those of you who gave so much back to us through this project. You have all been truly supportive and we thank you for being an inspiration to us both. 
The past few months have been nothing short of magical. What started as a crazy, fun idea between two friends — inspired by the astronomy-rich comments of a homeless man who stopped by our telescope one night in January — turned into something fun, exciting, surprising, and educational.  Over many nights of introducing teenagers to the stars, hearing university students mutter expletives as they saw the beauty of Saturn, or talking to young 10 year-olds about the sun, we realized there is a pent-up desire within our community to look at the stars and the wonders of the night sky. This curious fascination and desire extends beyond anything we could have ever imagined. 
Viva plays a practical astronomy joke on Michael as the pair host their
last joint Ottawa #popscope event together in August 2014.
From our $1000 Awesome Ottawa mini-grant last February, to our subsequent coverage in the Idealists in Action blog, we have been slowly growing a mini urban astronomy community here in Ottawa. We have together hosted five #popscope sessions, which we estimate gave over a 100 Ottawans from a variety of backgrounds the chance to look at the rings of Saturn, double star clusters, or the craters of the moon.  
As we helped you look the sky (maybe the moons of Jupiter for the first time) we were witness to many memorable “Eureka” comments:
“Oh my god,” 
“Is that really it?” 
“No. #$&%*@^ way!” 
You wouldn’t think it, but Ottawa is also full of what we call “closet astronomers”. We stopped counting the number of times we heard, “Oh cool, I have a telescope too! Maybe I can bring it out sometime!” 
The #popscope co-founders hold a ball of Christmas-tree lights
during an astronomy-themed photo shoot.
You noticed our posters. You tweeted and visited our Facebook page. You asked how you could get our t-shirts. You posted news of meteor showers, the universe’s sound bytes, and asked us questions about which telescopes to buy for your children. You even went so far as to ask us how you could help make these events bigger and better. You came for the stars and you stayed for the company. The first time, the second time, maybe even a third. 
We also hosted a number of one-telescope “#miniscopes” on days it was too difficult to coordinate our full arsenal. These #miniscope sessions, held primarily in Sandy Hill and Lowertown, engaged neighbours and students on the way home from the library, grocery store…and most entertainingly – the bar. On our final night, as many of you know, we were able to combine our love for community astronomy with our love for music. Let’s give a big thanks to local DJ Woerk and DJ Mayer who hosted #popscope outside their home and spun star-inspired songs all night long.
Our day-time #popscope sessions, made possible with the donation of solar filter from CanadianTelescopes.com, helped us engage children during the day. “I’m going to tell my parents that I saw a telescope today,” said one, on his way to the wading pool at Jules Morin Park.  Another created an adorable “sun dance” to mimic what the sun looked like through the solar filter. It’s hard to tell, but flying UFO’s also may or may not have been spotted.
One at a time, we were humanity, together looking up at the cosmos – millions of light years deep – from unlikely places here on the streets of Ottawa. 
Our project taught us about the value of friendship, the importance of community, and making human connections. True to how our project idea started, we learned of the vital need to engage all Ottawans – from all backgrounds and walks of life. And indeed, we did our best to engage a variety of groups. We hosted nighttime #popscope sessions on Nepean Point, in Nault Park in Vanier, and in various locations in Lowertown, where the demographics changed drastically. For us, there has been nothing more special than watching someone see the moon, Mars, or Saturn for the very first time. In those moments, we realize how equal we all really are.
We learned that taking photographs with a smartphone through a telescope is doable – but difficult! We learned that as leaders of the project, it is also possible – and important – to let others lead. We quickly formed a support group of inspiring young(er) amateur astronomers who were happy to train the telescope on their favourite star or planet, take photographs and show others the ropes. 
Our greatest challenge was predicting the weather. “When’s the next #popscope?” was a common question we got, next to, “Where can I get that cool shirt?” To your annoyance, our answer was often, “We don’t know. It depends on when the sky is clear. That’s why we call it #popscope!” Weather reports in Ottawa change with the wind and we often had to rely on last-minute gut feeling to decide on whether or not to host a #popscope that night. Some nights we got lucky, others not so much.
Thank you to our patrons at Awesome Ottawa Foundation and CanadianTelescopes.com. Thank you, BangOn!, for producing trendy and attractive #popscope t-shirts that advertised the #popscope mission to people Ottawa  – and elsewhere – each day. 
Though we are leaving Ottawa, the movement that #popscope started has just begun. This summer, we will be helping spread astronomer love to Philadelphia and Baltimore, our new homes for the next few months. To carry on the tradition of #popscope in Ottawa, we are leaving the project in the capable hands of Ms. Megan Hanlon, who will continue to administer the Facebook page and organize #popscope nights with a network of dedicated volunteers. 
Some of us have never had the chance to partner with our friends, to make a differences in our communities, as little or big as they might be. It is our hope that you might take our humble project and friendship as an example to pursue community projects of your own. Thank you again for your support, Ottawa. Keep attending #popscope with your friends and neighbours….and above all…keep…looking….up! 
– Michael and Viva

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