Bicyle Astronomy is a project to bring sustainable stargazing to the people via a bicycle-propelled telescope.
The Bicycle Astronomy project combines my passion for introducing people to the universe’s wonders and spurring them to think about sustainable transportation. I throw spontaneous star parties all around the city using a “long-tail” cargo bike called a Mundo to carry my observing gear and sandwich-board signs that I set up in Geneva the morning of an event.
The project started when I asked Jim Hogan, owner of the Geneva Bicycle Center, how he would define the bicycle. He said:
“It’s the most perfect tool for social transformation ever invented.”
I thought, that’s how I feel about the telescope. What if I put both technologies together?
Even the most jaded adults become wide-eyed children when looking at the moon, or Saturn’s rings through a telescope. The night sky has inspired artists, scientists and explorers since ancient times to push the threshold of knowledge and creative expression.
And yet most people have never looked through a telescope, or had someone explain what’s twinkling overhead. How many scientists, artists, and inventors are we losing because we haven’t introduced them to the source of incredible wonder that is the rest of the universe? With Bicycle Astronomy, I want to change that, giving every person in my city the chance to look through a telescope and, at least for a moment, be able to gaze in wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
Most people who observe the universe through a telescope come away with a profound appreciation for both the vastness of the universe and the smallness and precious rarity of our own planet. I want to inspire people to think creatively about sustainability, but also concretely. This is the role of the cargo bicycle in the project. In other words, the premise—and promise—of Bicycle Astronomy is to both inspire and ground that inspiration with an example of tangible action.
To do so, I teamed up with a local NGO, Geneva Community Projects, and used the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter to raise funds for the bicycle and lightweight telescopes. You can view the project here. Many of my supporters are cyclists who had never considered the bicycle as a tool for outreach, let alone a platform for astronomical observations. Thanks to all of them for having the open mind and heart to help kickstart this project from dream to reality.
My first Bicycle Astronomy star party in October 2012 drew more than 40 people to one of our city’s tiny “pocket” parks — quite a good turnout, considering the drizzle we had had all week. The sky awed, and the bike intrigued. I let these things speak for themselves, confident in my mission to make the universe accessible to everyone and curious about what we might achieve if we approach our shared challenges with a slightly more cosmic perspective. At the very least, my project might get more cyclists looking up, and more astronomers on bikes.