By Claire Tan (20S07A) and Huang Beihua (20A03A)
You can’t see the stars in Singapore—or so you thought! If you ever thought this way, be prepared to be proven wrong by what went down at AstroNite 2019—Astronomy Club’s showcase of the fascinating science that opened a window to all its richness, even for the clueless layman (much like us).
The Multi-Purpose Hall opened its doors the moment the clock struck seven, and attendees wasted no time pouring into the arms of its jovial, carefree atmosphere. Elton John’s Rocket Man opened the suitably astronomy-themed playlist, the backdrop for excited chatter and punctuated by the occasional bout of laughter. Booths, enticingly adorned with streamers or banners, took up most of the attention, each one a unique window into the world of astronomy. Not to mention the free prizes given out, comprising chocolates and sweets (appropriately Mars-branded) that provided additional motivation—as if any more was needed—for sleep-deprived students to participate in the games prepared for them.
A more careful look around the hall revealed a novel sight: unlike most other school events, AstroNite has been involving Astronomy lovers from all over Singapore to help with organising or participating in the event. Five astronomy clubs set up their own booths within the hall, while an even more diverse crowd, spanning all kinds of educational institutions, gathered to soak up the atmosphere of the night. Pride evident in her smile, teacher-in-charge Ms Lim Ai Lin commented that she was “very happy to help show that, regardless of what institution you go to, you can enjoy the subject [of Astronomy].” The benefits of collaboration hardly stopped with inclusivity, however, as Wu Xiao of the Hwa Chong Astronomy Club testified: “[the cooperation] helped to improve the fraternity among different schools, allowing [them] to get familiar with and learn from one another.”
One example of this collaboration came from the Cogitare Club of Raffles Girls’ School. At their booth, participants had to throw darts to answer three questions, and getting all three correct would warrant them a prize. The tantalising taste of snacks was hardly within easy reach, however, with questions such as “What are the implications of finding alien life?” demanding every bit (and often more) of what we knew. (Correct answers demanded mentioning ‘The Great Filter’, a concept theorising barriers preventing the development of advanced intelligent life, and certainly not any hurried mentions of “a communist society”.) The less-than-stellar replies were nothing to worry about, however: the station masters remained hospitable as ever, all but too enthusiastic to impart their knowledge to their audience.
Another booth of note was the one by the School of Science and Technology’s Astronomy Club. The alien contraptions proudly displayed across three tables drew more than a few wide-eyed stares, but friendly experts on the matter were all but too willing to assist. With their patient explanations, we learned that they were radio antennae, made to pick up signals from space that carry significant meaning in the study of astronomy. The complex mechanisms of the instrument were made even more impressive when we found out that they were made from scratch by students: the antennas were precisely positioned metal rulers, while the more sophisticated transmitters and attenuators attached were all commercial parts ingeniously made to work together with streams of wires. It was the perfect model to showcase how complex machines actually work and, as we listened, asked questions, and nodded in pretense of understanding, we could feel the gradual enlightenment of our physics-averse brains.
Perhaps the best contrast to this science-heavy showcase was RI’s own ‘DIY Galaxy in a Bottle’ Booth. On the tables were bags filled with crushed water babies in a motley of colours, eagerly awaiting their layering into tiny glass bottles. Each bottle was a capsule of magic waiting to happen: every ray of light saw “galaxies” coruscate into life, almost swirling before our eyes. For a different type of souvenir, the “Written in the Stars” station stood readily waiting: Participants wove through perforated paper and traced their favourite constellations with strings. The result was elegant in its simplicity, perhaps lacking the bottles’ opulence but evocative in their abstract, subdued way. Of course, those still yearning for intellectual stimulation were not forgotten: a smorgasbord of quiz stations lined the perimeter of the hall, sating the eager challenger’s hunger about any topic from the history of astronomy to features of the night sky.
While the hall was suffused in an ebullient joy, the parade square was a much different sight. Even before night fell, our Astronomers were already hard at work, dotting the parade square with telescopes and preparing them for the stargazing session to come. Far from a simple point-and-look routine, priming telescopes for use was arduous work saturated in technicality: from regulating the alignment of lenses and mirrors, to meticulously adjusting minuscule screws, the task demanded the utmost of care and caution.
What was instrumental in this dazzling show of expertise were, as several Astronomers concurred, a healthy dose of hard work and a precious sense of community. Signing up to be an astronomer meant forsaking the languor of an early bedtime every Tuesday for weekly lectures on theory and stargazing practice. Yet, this is far from being laborious or daunting: the less experienced or knowledgeable among members would always be assured the most patient of assistance for whatever difficulties they face, and spotting the star you wanted to with your friends in the club was as bountiful a reward as any. Indeed, alone with no one but one another under the beauty of the cosmos, it is difficult not to feel a sense of camaraderie with the rest of your club in an experience that few others share. This might be why the Year 1–4 members, despite the unfortunate dissolution of their own club, continue to join the Year 5–6s for events—the spirit was just impossible to let go of.
With all the preparations complete, our Astronomers were all too ready to welcome the night’s stargazers come 8 p.m. Armed with knowledge from the many booths, and a specially prepared briefing explaining the constellations to look out for, people headed straight to the parade square, eager to admire the night sky in all its obsidian splendour.
Granted, Singapore isn’t the best place to stargaze thanks to the phenomenon of light pollution. Even without a telescope, however, Jupiter was easily spotted that night, a bright spark in a sea of black. Training telescopes with almost mechanical precision on the diminutive dot, the Astronomers on duty eagerly pointed out its features—its moons, the famed Great Red Spot (but not the black monolith)—to throngs of mesmerised observers. Others, dissatisfied with merely another planet around the sun, took up the challenge of locating deep-sky objects. A series of infinitesimal adjustments to the telescope, pointed at an ostensibly empty patch of darkness, materialised a jewel box of scintillating stars, shimmering in the silent, enchanting charm of, quite literally, another world.
The brick-laden ground found itself the refuge of many, the residual heat welcome amidst the chilly evening breeze. Many sat down to relax only for a while before getting up again, treasuring every moment to use the professional equipment on site. Others picked up pairs of binoculars made freely available for use, pointing excitedly to friends and gripping their shirts whenever an asterism was found. Yet more simply lay down and made the ground their idyll, chatting with friends under the veil of the night, content with what they had shared and seen. In the words of Annabelle and Darren from St. Joseph’s Institution, “it was an interesting new experience; everyone enjoyed themselves”.
A game of Kahoot rallied all back in the hall with 30 questions touching on every aspect of Astronomy, and, then, it was time to disembark from our celestial journey. As we made our way to the exit, the brightly-lit Hall remained as welcoming as ever, perhaps reluctant to see guests leave its doors much as they themselves did. Stepping out into the darkness, we looked up once more: though AstroNite had come to a close, the stars that we had come to know and love remained souvenirs, dotting the sky with reminders of the night’s adventures.