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Westminster Planetarium ignites young minds with astronomical adventures
8 April 2024

Led by the School’s Astronomer-in-Residence and pupil teachers, Westminster’s pop-up planetarium continues to spark curiosity and passion among local schoolchildren

Sharing the wonder of the night sky with young people has always been the aim of Westminster’s Astronomer-in-Residence, Professor Kevin Walsh, knowing that super though London is, the one thing it cannot always offer is clear, dark night skies. The inflatable six-metre dome planetarium, housed in the basement of the sports centre, therefore gives children a taste of what is up there, fostering a love for astronomy beyond the classroom. 

Over the course of each academic year, around 250 students from local primary schools visit Westminster to learn more about astronomy. The planetarium dome can welcome 40 children at a time, with sessions led by Professor Walsh alongside two Remove pupils, who are given an astronomy training crash course before delivering presentations to children of varying ages. This year’s hosts have been Anaira (Remove, HH) and Molly (Remove, MM) who have honed their talks to be relatable and engaging as possible to each audience.  

On the opportunity to work on the project, Anaira said: “What I most enjoy about the planetarium is the wonder and curiosity that we leave children with. It’s gratifying to be able to expose children to Astronomy and leave them excited to discover more about a subject area that isn’t properly taught in most primary schools. Resolving some of the astronomical misconceptions that primary school children hold is also incredibly important to us and the questions we get asked at the end of our presentation show us the need for more initiatives like this.” 

Molly added: “Having volunteered in the planetarium for just over a year, I have grown to look forward to Thursday afternoons immensely. As a non-STEM student, who has never shown much of a talent for physics let alone astronomy, I have enjoyed harbouring a recreational interest in constellations and features of the night sky. Aside from the fact that planetarium has provided me with a whole host of new, fascinating information, it is the teaching aspect that I’ve come to find the most rewarding. Being presented with the opportunity to teach up to 60 children a day is an incredibly fulfilling task and I find their curiosity and inquisitiveness regarding the night sky absolutely wonderful to witness.” 

As well as the planetarium dome, the School also has an observatory at the top of the Hooke Science Centre, which further extends astronomy outreach. As well as being a resource for Westminster pupils, it has long welcomed students from a number of schools, and the Royal Astronomical Society. 

On the reward for pupils, Professor Walsh said: “All of the astronomy kit we have here and the associated activities it provides undoubtedly presents opportunities for pupils which break down the constrains of a rigid academic education. It is so nice to allow them to spread their wings a little and to help them discover they have them in the first place.” 

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