By Low Jing Kai (24S03H) and Syaura Nashwa (24S03R)
There are some things that you look at, and you just think about your significance in the world.OM Joshi Vaibhav (24S06O), Raffles Astronomy EXCO
On 4 August, Friday, the Multi-Purpose Hall was brought to life for an ‘out-of-this-world’ event: Astronite. Traditionally hosted by Raffles Institution’s Astronomy club, the annual soiree is where aspiring astronomers and stargazing enthusiasts come together as students to discuss and better appreciate astronomy outside of the school curriculum together.
Astronite took the form of a “carnival”, featuring simple astronomy-themed games made accessible for astronomy novices (like us!) as well as posters manned by students for interested attendees to learn more about different aspects of astronomy. A quiz was also conducted before ending the event off with stargazing at the parade square.
As the sun set behind us, we took a step into the MPH and were immediately sucked in by the booths and adrenaline-pumping music. Despite coming early, there was already a large crowd of students from different schools, and even adults, enthusiastically engaging in various posters and games.
The booths were set up by Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Bukit Panjang Government High School, Nanyang Junior College, Raffles Girls’ School, Victoria Junior College, and of course, Raffles Institution (JC and Year 1-4).
There was a selection of 14 game booths and 4 poster booths, each exploring fascinating features of astronomy, such as the evolution of stars, with explanations being provided by the booth managers.
The booth managers were cordial and were impressively well-versed in astronomy — they were able to answer any question thrown at them. Maintaining their high spirits throughout the 2 hour carnival, the enthusiasm with which these “astrophiles” explained their facet of astronomy was a resounding testament to their passion for astronomy.
Image courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society
When we talked to each astrophile, we noticed a common sentiment. As they learnt more about the stars, the greater disquietude they felt. Upon processing the universe’s grandness, they asked themselves, “What is my significance in this world?”
It’s easy to be daunted by astronomy. You start reading about nebulae and constellations and suddenly, you find yourself questioning your place in the universe. Despite that, our interviewees have channelled this ‘existential dread into a burning passion to better understand our universe, retaining their optimism even as they realise the microcosm of our species.
As they marvel at the scale of our universe and how we as a species could possibly map the uncharted expanse of our universe, they return to this introspection: “What would someone from a different planet thousands of years later see, and what would I want them to see?”
Students gathered around for the virtual quiz. (From right to left, Vijay, Bryan, Venikoh and Anushka from Victoria Junior College)
VJC’s Astronomy Club was impossible to miss. At the forepart of the Multi-Purpose Hall were bonded club members tending to their poster booth. It was clear that they were very eager to share their knowledge with the various attendees.
Venikoh enlightened us on the parallels between certain phenomena in outer space and what is created by us humans. A notable example is nuclear fission which altered the course of history through The Manhattan Project. It might ring a bell for Oppenheimer (2023) viewers, a film centred around quantum physics.
Justin and Hong Feng from Nanyang Junior College
Intrigued by the display of types of nebulae supernova remnants at NYJC’s booth, we asked Hong Feng, “Why specifically nebulae? What is it that you find so interesting about them?” His answer? “Well, they’re beautiful”.
The Rosette Nebula (Image courtesy of NASA)
Hong Feng wasn’t wrong. Astronite was a wonderful reminder of such majestic things naturally occuring in our very universe.
Dan Ti Xuan at BPGHS’s booth
BPGHS ideated a game for participants to create a particular constellation by throwing marbles into cups. The booth was eye-catching — yellow star stickers and personalised artwork of various astronomy-related objects lent a creative flair to it.
BPGHS’ game set-up
The game looked deceptively easy, with a guide of constellations being provided and the cups being laid flat, it seemed the only thing standing in our way was our accuracy. (Our failed recreation of the Gemini constellation was a humbling reminder of our throwing skills, or the lack thereof.)
Students gathered around for the virtual quiz
Astronite also held a virtual quiz. With questions covering a wide range of astronomy topics, this quiz was certainly not for the uninitiated. The crowd was certainly ready to put their newly-acquired astronomy knowledge to use!
Armed with the facts we (the writers) managed to absorb in our interviews, we still fell short. Despite that, the quiz was a lot of fun, with the question “What is the theme of Astronite” eliciting snickers from the crowd.
Yi Xin, Viktor, Kai Zhe, Haobin and Keane, Raffles Astronomy Club alumni
Astronite was also a place of interest for former Raffles Astronomy Club members. They recalled their time planning and attending CCA sessions during the COVID-19 period fondly. When asked why they came back, they exclaimed, “We still love Astronomy!”
Viktor, a former Academic IC during his time as EXCO recalled, “I taught [Astronomy] in very simple terms so everybody could understand and get into the subjects easier. Astronomy is not very daunting even though it is very mathematical. Astronomy is more accessible and less esoteric than you think it is.”
As the carnival activities came to an end, it was time for the attendees to move on to stargazing.
After hearing about the wonders of the night sky, we were certainly very eager to examine its beauty for ourselves, a sentiment certainly shared by all those attending.
At the parade square, the members of the Astronomy Club were busy setting up the 7 telescopes allocated for stargazing, with each aimed at a different feature of the night sky. Preparing the telescopes required great focus, involving precise adjustments and calibrations, with extra care being put into stabilising these fragile yet amazing tools.
As we observed the astronomers at work on their slick and modern telescopes, we could not help but wonder about the various devices invented by people centuries back with the purpose of viewing and charting our night sky.
These people took the first step in building a greater understanding of humanity’s place in the universe and we should appreciate the resourcefulness and initiative the pioneers of astronomy have shown in pursuit of their passion, for it is only through their efforts that we are now able to admire the stars and comprehend what they mean to us a species.
Though most of their names have faded into the annals of history, their drive for their craft is passed on, as evidenced by the hardworking organisers who helped make Astronite possible, spreading the beauty of astronomy to an even wider audience.
“There’s a lot of stuff you don’t really see like booking of venues and background stuff like making sure all the logistics are in place. Even things like contacting external partners, which include contacting other JCs and secondary schools to participate in this event,” Om remarked.
Though we may not see it, the preparation for Astronite has been tough, with motivation and communication being issues the EXCO as well as all those involved have worked tirelessly to overcome.
“With so many people involved in the event, it is quite easy to overlook a link and forget sometimes to tell someone about something. We have to take note of what kinds of stuff [external partners] are bringing, making sure that their setups are all in place and bringing them over when they get here.”
Astronite rehearsal conducted 3 days before the event
In the parade square, the atmosphere was electric. The crowd was abuzz as everyone waited for the telescopes to be assembled, like concertgoers waiting for our favourite artiste to appear. Some attendees showed off their prizes and discussed astronomy facts while others chose to relax and reflect on their experience that night.
“Astronomy makes us think of so many things — Why are we here? How did we get here? How did the earth get formed? What future are we heading towards?” Mr Silas Yeem, a teacher at NUS High commented, “Though the attendees come from different schools, it is heartening to see us all united under this one sky.”
Photo of the night sky (Image courtesy of Raffles Astronomy Club)
Unfortunately, clouds permeated the night sky, obstructing our view of the mesmerising constellations and stars. Staring at the clouds, knowing that despite our technological advancements, the universe could still be hidden behind this “simple” wall formed by a planet we believe to have dominance over, was humbling.
Despite this setback, the spirits of the attendees remained high. Though we were not able to see the stars, we still left the event feeling fulfilled. Having gained a deeper appreciation of the universe, a passion for astronomy was no doubt ignited within us.