I was delighted to take part in this year’s Space Week. The workshop I offered is called Solar System Explorers. It consisted of a brief run through our solar system. Within, I talked about some of the multitudes of spacecraft in orbit, on the way, or already exploring the surface of the planets. The JUICE mission is particularly featured.
Jupiter planet of the winter
Being the planet of the winter, Jupiter was the one I spoke about the most. I told the kids about Juno in polar orbit and Europa Clipper’s targeted launch in 2024. And about JUICE on its way to the largest planet in our solar system. We also looked closely at Mars with its rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance on the surface. The story of being at the launch of Curiosity flowed out of me at one stage. It was such a wonderful experience to feel the sound of the rocket passing right through my body.
I wanted the children to become solar system explorers in their own right. To look up in the east and find Jupiter with their own eyes. To get Jupiter’s brightness in their heads, I compared it to to the lights of a Sikorsky helicopter. They would be familiar with these rescue choppers as they frequently fly in the area. Sometimes saving people who become injured on local mountains. They also fly patients from the offshore islands to the hospital. It is difficult not to see them as they are particularly loud. In the eastern night sky, it is difficult not to see Jupiter as it is the brightest object. I call it eyeball astronomy, as only some children have binoculars or a telescope.
To facilitate their quest, I made a small map with Jupiter, M45 and Taurus featuring the red star Aldebaran. The library kindly printed one for each child. So then I drew Jupiter, explaining features as I went along, and the children followed with their own efforts. The drawings of the first groups went well. I prompted them to include Jupiter’s belts, zones and the great red spot. Plus, if they could write Juice is on the way, Juno in Orbit and Europa Clipper launch 2024. They were random ages, so not all managed the writing, but all created lovely drawings.
A drawing challenge
The second group were older, 6th class primary school. Again, a trip through the solar system with a focus on Jupiter. They also drew Jupiter, but their extra challenge was to include JUICE at Jupiter. We discussed the solar panels on the spacecraft and looked closely at how they were arranged and how large they were to the craft itself. They were familiar with solar power on top of houses. We talked briefly about how powerful the JUICE solar panels must be to take energy from the sun and use it so far away in space.
My question to the children then was, ‘What age will you be when JUICE gets to Jupiter and its icy moons? The answers, 19,20,21. Some of them wrote that on their drawings. They seemed to be amused to think of themselves eight years ahead.
JUICE video Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer
We finished with a short video about JUICE presented by an Irish scientist, Professor Caitriona Jackman and her colleagues. It is important to show young children that Irish people can become scientists with the opportunity to work on ESA and NASA missions. They may never get to space themselves, but they can be part of solar system exploration in many different ways.
Each child got JUICE stickers, ESO stickers ( saying Think Big Aim High) and a map showing where Jupiter is in the October night sky. Each class got an ESA poster showing its missions within the solar system and beyond JUICE mission video Westport and Castlebar libraries were the venues, it was very enjoyable.