Just as an asteroid half the size of a rugby pitch hurtles past the Earth, on Friday 15th February, UK teenagers are being given the chance to learn more about the real science of such events, with the launch of the Cosmic Comics project.
The project draws on the astronomy expertise of Professor Paul Roche of the University of Glamorgan and the technical expertise of Charles Wilson of Tinopolis Interactive, based in Llanelli. It is brought to life by illustrator Dave Smith, and the project is the brainchild of Dr Emma Weitkamp, the creator of Science Comics from UWE Bristol. The comics are aimed at encouraging young teenagers to study science, technology and mathematics.
Cosmic Comics follow the adventures of three ordinary teenagers, who are given access to the fantastic facilities of the Faulkes Telescope South in Australia, through a GCSE Astronomy project at their school.
The Faulkes Telescope Project, based at Glamorgan, will be using the Australian instrument to image asteroid 2012 DA14, a 50-metre chunk of space rock that will pass Earth at a distance of only 28,000 km (17,000 miles) on Friday (15th Feb) evening, closer than geostationary orbiting satellites. There is no chance that this relatively small piece of space debris will hit us, but it will be visible with binoculars if you know where to look.
“The comic storylines will help us to communicate some very exciting space science and astronomy, like the threat posed by asteroid and comet impacts, or eruptions from the Sun that might damage our satellite networks – so it’s all about real science, but in a format that should appeal to our target audience”, said Professor Paul Roche, chair of Astronomy Education at Glamorgan, and the science consultant to the project. “As we can see from asteroid 2012 DA14, there is lots of really interesting science going on out there, and we want to show that the UK is at the leading edge of much of this international research.”
Published weekly on the Planet Science website and funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the five episode comic will be supported by short articles explaining the science behind the children’s exploits, as well as interactive polls and quizzes to test readers’ astronomy knowledge. All five episodes will remain on the website allowing browsers to catch up on any missed episodes.
“Young people love reading and research shows that placing science into a wider context not only helps engage readers but also facilitates learning”, said Dr Emma Weitkamp. “Feedback from the Science Comics project showed that children loved the stories, and teachers commented how helpful it was to place science in an everyday context.”
Before starting the project Dr Weitkamp explored the reading habits of young teenagers and found that 40% of 13 to 15 year olds read a comic weekly or daily, with a similar number reading about science on the Internet on a daily or weekly basis. Of 10 and 12 year olds, about 35% were reportedly reading a comic daily or weekly, with about 24% reading about science on the Internet.