In the summer of 1983 an astronomical camp organized by Students' Science Movement took place in Frombork. We regard that event as the beginning of the activity in which currently Association ‘Almukantarat’ Astronomy Club is involved.
The idea of organizing meetings for young people interested in astronomy dates back to middle '70s. On the initiative of Marek Szczepanski, Tomasz Dzianowicz and Zygmunt Kalisz in Upper Silesia University on the Grass started its meetings (which were often held ‘on the green grass’). Everything was patronized by the local regiment of Polish Scouting and Guiding Association (ZHP).
In the following years University on the Grass evolved into Youth Academy of Science. Meetings of that organization had interdisciplinary character, their subjects were connected with different branches of science.
Later Youth Academy of Science transformed into Youth Science Society. This organization, on the contrary to previous ones, consisted of many small groups with narrower areas of specialization. Classes were conducted by university lecturers. In the beginning of the 80's activity of the Society started to decline and finally ended in 1981 with the martial law.
Establishment of the Students' Science Movement brought organizing first meeting for young people from the whole country. Because of that fact we regard year 1983 as the beginning of our activity. First leader of young astronomers was Marek Szczepanski — worker of Silesian Planetarium in Chorzow.
The first astronomical camp was organized in 1985 in Central School of Scout Instructors (Zalecze Wielkie). Since 1988 this camps are held there every year.
Year 1986 brought the end of SSM. It's place took new organization, called Avant-garde of XXI Century. It was another attempt to unite groups of young people with different interests. Avant-garde consisted of many such groups: astronomical, computer, archeological, journalist, radio amateurs, ethnographical, chemical…
The last meeting of Avant-garde took place in 1990. Later every group found its own way. Unfortunately, in most cases it resulted in ending their activity. However, astronomy survived through difficulties of the eighties and nineties!
How was it possible? Probably, causes lie in astronomical group's methods of work: young people, who participated regularly in the camps as pupils, gradually became teachers and tutors. This method has worked for 20 years and we think it will work also in future.
In 1989 someone proposed finding a name for our club. Piotr Zycki (since 1988 Chief of the Club) and Miroslaw Kutrowski suggested ‘Almukantarat’, which met general approval. So, for nearly 16 years we call ourselves ‘Almukantarat’ Astronomy Club.
The nineties brought settling our activity: our camps and seminars took place regularly.
In 1995, in the face of changes in Poland, we had to give our activity a legal shape. Association ‘Almukantarat’ Astronomy Club was legally registered. From that time we have our charter and official authorities. First Chairman became Piotr Zycki. A few months later Michal Matraszek took over from him. From 1999 to 2004 Angnieszka Szrom was managing the Club. Then Piotr Fita became a Chairman.
Here are some of our most important achievements:
- In 1985/1986 we organized a series of winter meetings on the Glodowka Meadow near Zakopane. During them we made regular observation of Halley's Comet.
- An expedition to Jarvenaa in Finland in 1990. Its aim was observing total solar eclipse on 22nd July.
- Friends of the Club several times won national contests in astronomy and physics.
- Expedition to Hungary for observing total solar eclipse, 11th August 1999.
- In 2000 we created AstroNet — Internet astronomy portal.
- We won an astronomical contest organized by polish science monthly ‘Wiedza i Zycie’. Series of observations made by camps participants allowed us to win the main prize — a telescope.
Many participants of our meetings have finished astronomical or physical studies. Some of them have gained PhD (and there is one Reader between club members). However, for the majority of our friends and pupils Zalecze and astronomical camps remain only a nice episode. They are making career in other fields but they always recall time spent together with pleasure.
How do we work?
In meeting organized by the Club take part students of upper secondary school. We send invitations for a camp to finalists of physical and mathematical contests organized for students of lower secondary school and (for several years only) to young readers of science newspapers. Up to now few hundred people participated in our camp. Our meetings can be organized thanks to many institutions, among others: Polish Scouts' Association Centre of Training and Recreation in Zalecze Wielkie, Silesian Planetarium in Chorzow, Astronomical Center of Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw and Mt. Suhora Astronomical Observatory in Gorce Mountains.
For nearly twenty years methods of work on our meetings haven't changed. On their first camp young participants almost only are taught by older people. They listen to series of lectures, which we can call ‘basis of astronomy’, they learn constellations, make simple observations and find out how to use computers in astronomy. But astronomical camp is not only hard work: there is also room for singing songs around bonfire, hiking and sport activities. Traditionally there is also organized a trip to Silesian Planetarium and Observatory.
During next meetings (four-day-long spring and autumn seminars, summer and winter camps) young participants have to do more on their own: they prepare short papers, take parts in contests. This way they learn presenting their achievements, teaching other people, solving problems and working in teams. Of course, classes conducted by university students and professional astronomers are held too. Their level is much higher than in average secondary school.
Being more and more active, participants gradually became staff of the Club. They start to give lectures and help organizing next meetings.
Working in Club is not only during camps and seminars. In the school year young people try to develop their interests, for example by making their own observations or taking part in contests.
Polish original by Michał Matraszek