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The stranger side of astronomy outreach

What’s the strangest astronomy ‘outreach’ event you’ve been to? Outreach in itself is an odd word, but what it means is an activity put on by keen amateurs or professional scientists to interest the public in astronomy. We’re incredibly lucky in the UK that so many people are willing to do this for nothing.

Astronomy societies up and down the country just don’t get enough thanks for the observing sessions they put on. Only this week, many were organised specially to coincide with the BBC’s Stargazing Live programmes, although clouds probably scuppered a lot of them. With our weather, it’s a thankless task at the best of times.

I haven’t been to many outreach events that I could honestly describe as genuinely odd. But then I don’t live in Vienna. On 4 October 2009, the city played host to a remarkable event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.

It was held at the Thermae Oberlaa spa. The evening was warm, so visitors dined al fresco before (presumably) removing their clothes and heading for the indoor pool. There they soaked, listening to talks on astronomy while pictures were projected on a large screen. Afterwards, it was back out to the terrace to look through telescopes.

 

 

I can’t tell you how much I’d have loved to have been there, because it’s my idea of heaven. Vienna is one of my favourite cities; I love Wiener Schnitzel; and what could be more relaxing than floating in a pool listening to the Austrian equivalent of Brian Cox? (provided, that is, the professor could speak English – shamefully, my German is rather ropey).

This inspired event has given me an idea. The cities of Bath, Harrogate and Cheltenham could offer enhanced spa breaks by adding astronomy to the pampering experience. And at the risk of being slated as horribly sexist, it could even encourage more women to get into the hobby (my wife, for one).

There is, however, one drawback and it’s a rather big one. As the organizers admitted, “The seeing created by the warm water in the spa was horrible.” You can’t have everything, it seems…