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IAYC 2018
Getting international at the IAYC
Image Credit: Daniel Mortimer

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IAYC 2018

Exploring the Norman Lockyer Observatory

Image Credit: Daniel Mortimer

The International Astronomical Youth Camp, 2018, was held in the UK for the second time in its 49 year history, last summer.

After a stop in the scorching summer heat of Baños de Montemayor, Spain, for the 2017 edition of the camp, the IAYC once again returned to the Elizabethan country mansion of Nettlecombe court, located within the Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve.

The IAYC attracts young people (aged 16-24) with a large range of skill levels from complete beginner to PhD student, from vastly differing backgrounds and nationalities. The only requirement for attendance to the camp is that you have (or are willing to develop) a passion for astronomy. The IAYC does not demand academic excellence, but gives participants a space to explore the field of astronomy away from the rigid structure of classroom syllabi under the guidance of their working group leader.

Participants spend the three weeks of the camp working on a project tailored to both their skill levels and interests; this year the projects were separated into nine working groups ordered by broad topics. Some examples include celestial mechanics, astrophotography, optical interferometry and exoplanets. One project from the working group DRAGON used astrometric data from the recent GAIA data release to simulate the appearance of the night sky, accounting for proper motions. Another example is from the working group SAPPHO which conducted a mini grand tour of the solar system by photographing as many of our local neighbours as possible. The participants write up their work in LaTeX which is then printed in an annual report book.

The IAYC has always prided itself on the I in its title; it is a truly international event, this year hosting 72 participants from 26 nationalities spread over five continents. This makes the daily camp life a unique experience where participants utilise their free time to get to know one another and form friendships that, from experience, last a lifetime. A particular highlight of the international aspect of the camp are the national evenings: participants from each nation give a short five minute presentation about their home country – no PowerPoint allowed!

The camp schedule is tailored to accommodate the astronomer’s working hours. Breakfast is served at midday with the first working group afterwards, followed by lunch at 5:30 p.m., before everyone is thrown into a variety of games and activities in the non-astronomical programme. The final scheduled event of the day is the second working group session at 10 p.m., allowing the participants who have observational projects to gather data. A light meal is served at midnight before the participants are encouraged to observe using the camp’s many telescopes (highlights include an 8” Cassegrain on a go-to EQ mount and a 12” Dobsonian telescope) if it is clear outside. As necessary with the British weather however, there were contingency plans for cloudy nights which included game nights or simply talking late into the night.

One exception to the regular camp schedule is the excursion day held on the first Thursday of camp. This year, the participants were awoken at the shockingly early hour of 8 a.m. before being hurried onto a coach to visit the Norman Lockyer Observatory, whose volunteers very kindly gave us an intriguing lecture into the life and times of Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer, the co-discoverer of Helium and founder/first editor of the journal Nature. This was followed by a tour of the historic telescopes on site and a visit to the observatory’s fascinating planetarium, with its fully mechanical projector at the centre of the show.

The IAYC is a gathering of people from many different cultures, united by their passion for astronomy. Such an event cannot happen without the support of many people and organisations. In particular we would like to thank the staff of Nettlecombe court for their wonderful hospitality and for being so accommodating with our less-than-usual schedule, as well as the volunteers of the Norman Lockyer Observatory for the fascinating visit. Finally, to the RAS who have supported us twice now, both for the IAYC 2016 and the Communicating Astronomy to the Public 2018 conference.

Next year’s camp will be celebrating 50 years of the IAYC and will be held in Klingenthal, Germany, from the 20th of July to the 11th of August 2019 inclusive. Klingenthal is the home of five previous IAYCs, most recently in 2015. If you are interested in attending the IAYC 2019, please visit www.iayc.org, where around late December you can expect to find detailed information about the next camp including the working groups choices, and how to apply. We look forward to receiving your application!

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