Thu | Oct 17, 2019

Errol Rickman’s fascination with space … Astronomer encourages youth to be stargazers

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:31 AMCarlene Davis - Gleaner Writer
Astronomer Errol Rickman
Rickman: From I was a little boy, I have always had an interest in astronomy.
Astronomer Errol Rickman
Astronomer Errol Rickman.
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Errol Rickman has been fascinated with the universe since he was a little boy, and now at age 85 years, he still has the same joy looking through his telescope.

“From I was a little boy, I have always had an interest in astronomy and my first telescopes were old eyeglasses lenses that are connected in some bamboo joints. I bought a small one, what you call reflectors. When you look at the sky, you can see a lot of things, even on a cloudy day. Some of those telescopes look right through the clouds and you can see like Venus. I used to also look at certain eclipses with it,” the astronomer shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

The past president and treasurer of the Astronomical Association of Jamaica, was born, and grew up, in Kingston before his father moved him to St Mary, where he got his elementary education.

Love for astronomy

Around 1982, he moved back to Kingston to work while attending evening classes to study mathematics and physics, which helped with his love for astronomy.

“My main interest is the whole universe. You hear about the Big Bang and we look at it with an open mind. I always wondered why they always show you from a point where the universe started in this Big Bang, from nothing, and it only comes towards you but you don’t see anything on the other side,” noted Rickman.

“It’s important that you study the sky. I paid a lot of attention to looking into the small telescope at the sky. My love for it makes it easy.”

He added that he sought out the astronomy association after moving back to Kingston, as he wanted to become part of the group, which was based at The University of the West Indies (then the University College of the West Indies).

“The first night I went there, they asked me to be on the executive, so I did. I left Jamaica sometime after and went to Canada. I was in Canada for a while and when I returned, I went back there. Nobody was going to meetings and the place was dead, nobody came, nothing was happening,” Rickman recalled.

He said that he was instrumental in the rebirth of the association.

“The association originally started in 1942 with a number of businessmen, most of whom were members of the Jamaica Rifle Association; they started having meetings at the university,” said Rickman.

“When we meet, we talk about the universe and the stars. We get periodicals from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), IAU (International Astronomical Union) and the Astronomers Without Borders (AWB). We also make contact with people all over the world.”

ASTRONOMY IN SCHOOLS

Rickman explained that the meetings were kept very late and the young persons were not encouraged to join, so he found a way to introduce astronomy in the schools.

“The meetings would start at 7’o clock and it would last way past 10 in the night, which sort of restricts a lot of people from coming. We wanted more young people to join, but we didn’t ask them to join the club. We asked them to form a club in their school and then we would give them a telescope,” the astronomer noted.

He said that he applied to AWB to get around 400 small telescopes to issue to high schools across Jamaica, with a plan to start the Astro Club programme.

“No other place in the world got that amount. In 2009, we started distributing them, and when I checked with the education ministry, they said it was only 150 high schools, so we still have some and we are still giving them out. The suggestion was made to give some to the prep schools, because the little children have more interest in astronomy than the bigger ones. The bigger ones are going to high school with the idea of studying something special and then they get trapped into that groove,” said Rickman.

“The schools are responding and the teachers are taking an interest now and encouraging the children. We go back sometimes and show them how to set it up.”

The Astro Club meets on the last Tuesday of each month at The University of the West Indies. It currently has about 1,300 members on record but each meeting usually hosts about 20 to 30 members.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com