Scale Your Cosmos Right!

Last month a group of us from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) went to the Bestival music festival on the Isle of Wight with some hands-on astronomy activities for the Science Tent. I’ve been a fan of public engagement at music festivals for a while now, and although I helped out at the first two Live from Jodrell Bank events, this was the first full-on music festival that I’d done.

Nearly all of the public events that we do are for audiences that have already made the decision to come along and find out more about astronomy so we decided we needed something different for Bestival, where I doubt visiting the Science Tent was at the top of anyone’s list of priorities! After brainstorming with David (our PhD student outreach rep) for a few hours we came up with the idea of ‘Scale Your Cosmos Right’, a twist on the classic TV gameshow ‘Play Your Cards Right‘.

The game is pretty simple. Six cards are set out face down. The first two are then turned over:

The player has to decide which of the two cards shows the larger object and (potentially) switch the cards around so that the smaller object is on the left. In this example the Earth and Sun have to be swapped because the Earth is smaller than the Sun:

The player then turns over the next card and has to figure out where it fits in compared to the other two cards that have already been revealed. In this example the next card shows the Moon so this has to be moved to the far left and the other cards shifted to the right:

This continues until all of the cards have been turned over and placed in the correct size order so that the smallest object is the furthest left and the largest object is the furthest right:

We chose 12 different images to print on our cards, from the Moon to the SDSS map of nearby galaxies, and randomly selected six cards each time. The game seemed to go down well with the Bestival attendees and over 1200 people played Scale Your Cosmos Right over the four days we were there! You can see some pictures of us in action on our facebook page.

Anyone who has seen me give a public talk or run an outreach session will know that I really like talking about the scale of the Universe. So many people don’t realise how small we are compared to other planets, stars and galaxies and how far apart everything is. You’ll often find me demonstrating the distance between the Earth and the Moon with a basketball and tennis ball (thanks Tim O’Brien for first showing me that!) and I’m looking forward to adding in Scale Your Cosmos Right to my list of activities and trying it out with different audiences.

P.S. The plan is to eventually “release” Scale Your Cosmos Right as a pdf with the cards, instructions on how to play and information about the different objects. I’m hoping to get that done in November 2013 after World Space Week at Intech and the minor distraction of getting married!