Astronomy meetings cancelled during coronavirus lockdown? Host an online meetup

Faced with weeks and potentially months of no astronomy society meetings due to coronavirus lockdown, Brighton Astro came up with a novel way of staying in touch with society members.

Brighton Astro have been holding online meetings during coronavirus lockdown to help society members stay in touch and learn more about the cosmos.

We’ve had a recent run of bad luck with our attempts to organise public astronomy events. First there was the succession of weekend storms in February that stopped us from holding a public stargazing gathering on the seafront. And then, just as the weather had finally started to improve, coronavirus appeared.

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These are strange times indeed for Brighton Astro, as they are for every other astronomy society up and down the country. We’ve had to cancel all of our planned monthly meetings for the foreseeable future, along with our stargazing evenings.

It’s a great shame, but we’re not going to let COVID-19 stop us. We’ve decided that just because we can’t gather physically it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn about the cosmos. We just need to get creative.

With help from our friends in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Sussex we have begun to organise ‘virtual’ meetings, where members of our group can watch a talk broadcast live online.

Our first talk, hosted by astronomer Ciaran Fairhurst, was a huge success. Over 100 of us tuned in to hear about Ciaran’s research and to ask him questions.

Ciaran Fairhurst hosts Bright Astro's first ever online astronomy evening.
Ciaran Fairhurst hosts Bright Astro’s first ever online astronomy evening.

There are lots of different options for hosting a talk online. We chose Twitch so that people can watch by just clicking a link, without having to install any software or create an account. It’s still early days but so far the reaction has been positive.

If there is an advantage to the strange situation we find ourselves in, moving our talks online means we’re able to offer them to a wider audience. We’re no longer limited to the 60 people per month who can fit into our regular meeting place.

It’s important for us to continue to support our local community, we’re all doing what we can to keep spirits up, keep in touch with each other and make sure everyone is OK.

It’s just a shame that we’ve had to cancel our regular pub visits too. They’re a bit more difficult to recreate online!

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Pete Goodman is a founder of Brighton Astro. The society normally meets on the Brighton seafront for regular stargazing sessions and astronomy outreach. Find out more about via the Brighton Astro website.