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The Webfooted Astronomer - February 2002

 

Fledgling Astronomical Society of Nepal Takes Off with SAS Help

By Brian Allen

LAST August the SAS received an e-mail from Ananta Karki of the newly formed Astronomical Society of Nepal (ASN), the very first astronomy club to be created in that country. Ananta requested some basic help such as general astronomy information, advice on how to run an astronomy club, and types of club programs for their members and the general public. The SAS board asked for someone to look into their request further, and I volunteered since Iíve had an interest in Nepal for a long time.

Nepal packs more into its 56,600 square miles than most countries 20 times its size. The landscape compresses lush tropics and arctic tundra into an amazingly small span as it rises from near sea level to the highest point on Earth. Nepal attracts more than 300,000 tourists a year, despite having a per capita income ($170/year) that places it among the poorest 10 countries. You may remember hearing about a violent episode involving the crown prince of Nepal that left much of the royal family dead. This comes on top of an ongoing battle between the Royal Nepalese Army and Maoist rebels in the countryside, which has resulted in official U.S. State Department travel warnings for several years.

But we webfooted astronomers have a really great reason to be interested in Nepal. They have great observing conditions in the Kathmandu valley from mid-October to mid-June, or roughly just the opposite of our dry season here in Seattle. Needless to say, I found the prospect of helping out a nascent astronomical society in Nepal an intriguing idea, to put it mildly.

After some e-mail problems we exchanged a couple messages. I found that ASN had begun with only three members, all of whom are amateurs with a background in physics. Ananta and his friends were working at a disadvantage because there are no observatories, planetariums, or university-level programs in the entire country. They have access to one telescope-a 2-inch refractor that one of their members purchased during a trip to the U.S. Despite having only a 56K modem line for access to the Internet, ASN does have access to some relatively current (and powerful) PCís. One recent project that ASN undertook was to create a trivia game in memory of the Challenger disaster. They asked for help in finding materials about the history of Challenger (partly because of their slow Internet connection, but more because of an unfamiliarity with where such resources would be located on the Internet). I sent them a long list of links that they could use for finding more information, which they have put to good use.

The most recent care package of materials went out to ASN in January (which included literature, a CD full of utilities, and other information). Now weíre trying to help Ananta and his friends in their quest to find another good scope for around $600, complete. Iím actively seeking other SAS members who would be interested in participating in this effort. Itís a great opportunity to work on a really interesting project and gain new pen-pals on the other side of the world. If interested, please contact me at sas@brizone.com or leave a message at (206) 517-5599.

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