GAM 2017 Blog

By Eva Ntormousi


To make the constellation of Columba, the Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius had to tame one of Orion’s large celestial hunting dogs, the constellation of Canis Major. He chopped off three stars from its tail, and named the new constellation “Dove”, in reference to the bird that brought Noah an olive branch, and hope, after the cataclysm.  This small, understated constellation is a symbol of safety after a catastrophe, and survives in popular traditions as synonymous with peace.

Like this inconspicuous constellation, a small outreach initiative with the same name shines in the Southeast Mediterranean:  A collaboration between GalileoMobile and the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR), the Columba-Hypatia project will bring astronomy to students and teachers in schools throughout Cyprus. 

Throughout 2017, Columba will engage the students, the educators, and the general public across the island, in carrying out fun and educational astronomy activities and workshops. Through these activities the goal is to stimulate the students' curiosity about the cosmos and to demonstrate the scientific method and how scientists employ it to discover new things about physics and astronomy.

In this playful process though lies something deeper and even more significant.  Astronomy speaks directly to a fundamental human quest, the thirst of knowledge.  In inspiring this curiosity in young people, Columba aims to promote interaction, meaningful communication, understanding and, eventually, a culture of peace and nonviolence across borders.

For centuries, Cyprus has been home to two vibrant communities, one Turkish- and one Greek-speaking, that now live divided due to a complex series of political and military conflicts.  A remedy to this divide can only come through a continuous and arduous effort, not only from the international community, but most importantly, from the two communities themselves.  One such initiative is the inter communal Association for Historical Dialogue and Research, whose mission is to promote historical understanding amongst the public, and more specifically, amongst children and educators.

The other half of the collaboration, GalileoMobile, is an itinerant, science-education initiative that brings astronomy closer to young people around the world. Since its creation in 2008, it has carried out expeditions in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Peru and Uganda, as well as extended actions in Portugal, Nepal, and the United States, reaching over 10,000 pupils and 900 teachers.  Its vision for a world united “under the same sky” is embraced by the scope and mission of the AHDR.  The collaboration between these two entities for the Columba project goes through the prism of a common cultural heritage, and the universality of human curiosity about the Universe. 

The activities will mostly take place at the Home for Cooperation, a unique community centre located in the heart of Nicosia, and will comprise, among others, open lectures and star parties for the public. Educational material, including high-quality telescopes, will be donated directly to the visited schools, and the Home for Cooperation will keep additional telescopes, that will be made available to any school that requests them, for years to come!

One might wonder here, can we really make peace just by looking at the stars? Like a poet once said, “it is the gaze that makes the horizon”.  Columba-Hypatia says, once we learn how to follow each other’s gaze, we might see the same horizons.


To learn more about Columba and join its activities in Cyprus, you can follow its page on Facebook, here

The Columba-Hypatia project is funded by the Office for Astronomy for Development of the International Astronomical Union, and benefits from educational material from Meade, Universe Awareness, and ESO.



eva ntormousiEva Ntormousi is an astrophysicist working at CEA, in France. She received her PhD from the Ludwig-Maximillins University of Munich in 2012. She has been involved in astronomy outreach since 2009.