Interview with the popularizer of science, the head of the only private school of astronomy in Russia, Pavel Skripnichenko

    A popularizer of science, a lecturer at the Astronomy and Geodesy Department of the IENM UrFU, head of the kantrSkrip school of astronomy, Pavel Skripnichenko was one of the first people to call the military after the fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite with the question: “Have we cordoned off 50 kilometers, is this enough or more?” In an interview, Pavel told what modern astronomers are doing, why he created his own school of astronomy, and whether the end of the world from a meteorite fall is real.

    About school and teaching

    - Pavel, you are the founder and supervisor of the only private school of astronomy in Russia. Please tell us in more detail how your school is structured. What do you teach? Why did you decide to create it?

    I have two options for how to answer this question. The official, correct option is an option about the need to return astronomy to school education (when we started, no one thought about this among the masses), the conversation about how to first educate teachers how to teach this same 1 hour a week, about that at the departments of astronomy in universities, and count them in Russia on the fingers, crowds of applicants are not in the queues. And an unofficial, incorrect option, which is closer to me, and which I will tell in detail about.

    I am a celestial mechanic by training, and the vast majority of my acquaintances, relatives, friends, and colleagues at the university have no idea what I do and what my responsibilities are.

    A person who has the specialty of “astronomer” - for 80% of the population of our country:

    • looking at the stars in the sky
    • not of this world
    • makes horoscopes

    And to be honest, I began to engage in popularization in order to dispel and break such myths, and all other reasons joined later.

    And there were a lot of them. Fighting with native mythologization, for example: “A comet in the sky - we all die!”, “Tomorrow the end of the world from the fall of a 20-meter asteroid, they said on REN-TV!”, “I saw a UFO and it abducted my cat, wife and retirement! ”,“ According to the horoscope, I’m cancer and play MMO! ”

    The formation of a scientific worldview: why teach physics, chemistry and biology at school, if there is no astronomy that brings them together and answers fundamental, almost religious, questions?

    And as a result, an increase in the technological level in the country. The quality of the nail, brick, pavement - what do you think? Without mass education this will not happen.

    There are fewer than ten thousand professional astronomers in the world, and the amount of information is constantly growing. We need mathematicians, IT specialists, big data specialists - and all of them should be at least familiar with astronomy.

    When I realized this, I decided to lay my bones on the altar of education and popularization. Initially, I honestly tried to do this through the existing huge, funded budget organizations. But: “You cannot take out the equipment, a memo has not yet arrived at you. Yes, two weeks can go. ” Or so: “Yes, we pay only for the train. And to Vladivostok is also just a train. " And so: “Could you take 20 kg of leaflets about our organization with you, have they stayed since 2001?” And finally: “No, we do not have money for salaries to popularizers. Yes, we (100,500 salaries) will report on your activities, thank you. ”

    And since it is a little less realistic than impossible to act adequately in such conditions, we, a group of initiative citizens, have created our own structure with our educational programs: astrophysics, astrochemistry, planetology, cosmology, general astronomy; with our content - films (yes, we ourselves cut films for planetarium domes and not only), presentations, video tutorials, popular science lectures, scripts for scientific shows and events and all in the same vein. A separate independent organization has significantly more freedoms, but this is more than paid for by all the shortcomings of running a social business in our country.

    And, what is most annoying, there is a class of organizations that we call "cheaters." Small commercial, large NPOs, it doesn’t matter, they hold events, win grants, cut the budget and from time to time call it the “popularization of astronomy”. Most often, cartoons from the network are shown and thereby discredit both the industry and science. Here with the cheaters we also fight to the best of our ability. Of course, not all of them are - there are powerful and cool structures with which it is very pleasant to cooperate, but you can count them on the fingers, for example, ICAO from RosAtom.

    In 2017, Pavel won Science Slam in Yekaterinburg. On the video - a victorious performance

    - From the side it seems that astronomy is not very popular in Russia, and it is difficult to develop a private school of astronomy. This is true? In your opinion, what hinders development? Is there any support from the state?

    When a new organization is created, its main task is to enter the market. We did not have such a task, since there was no market. As it turned out, the number of people searching the School of Astronomy in search engines is extremely small. But in order to survive: pay salaries to employees, pay for an office, create content, invent equipment, it was necessary to create a sustainable business model, if possible, with a minimum of seasonality. And since we were initially positioned as a social business, we maximized not the profit, but the social effect. Thus, several projects that are now active were born.

    Project 1. We come to school, gymnasium, lyceum, office and spend Science Day. With lectures, laboratory works (mainly in chemistry and physics), with a planetarium dome, with interactive games, with round tables, etc. 200-400 children easily pass in a day, who within a few lessons receive a powerful dose of relevant, useful and interesting knowledge.

    What problems did we have? Finding money for equipment, a truck, content, making branding, registering an organization is not a big deal, you take a loan and pay your whole life.

    And it’s scary to hear back when you call to school: “Astronomy? We are not interested in astronomy ”or“ We do not provide paid services on the school grounds, we were banned. Who! We will not say. " “Federal law on education - no, they didn’t read it” or “We are not interested in astronomy. Yes, I'm sure all of our children are not interested in astronomy. I’m not interested, that means children too. ” Again, not in all organizations, but regularly hear this. And what is most interesting, most budget organizations are firmly convinced that we should do everything at our own expense, since we ourselves called.

    Project 2 - educational courses. Initially, for children, in order to prepare and motivate them to enter a university for an appropriate specialty. Everything is relatively clear here, there are simpler courses - General astronomy, for example. There are special courses - Astrophysics, Planetology, etc., there is Olympiad astronomy as a method of immersion in fundamental science.

    Our surprise knew no bounds when it turned out that adults who would like to do are no less than children. Someone works as a journalist and wants to write articles correctly, someone is engaged in amateur astronomy and is eager to understand what he is observing, while someone does need good knowledge to answer the child's questions. Motivation can be any.

    Returning to the topic of the question, is it difficult? Yes, it’s difficult. Popular astronomy is very. Unfortunately, 90% of Russian-language content on the network is profanity and swindle, and what is translated from English is not as terrible as the content. Therefore, it is difficult even for an interested person to find an adequate source of information.

    Is the level of knowledge high? Unfortunately not. There is a narrow class of young technical specialists and people with fundamental education from the Union who have knowledge at the level. However, the overwhelming majority of the population does not realize why the seasons on Earth change, what polar days and polar nights are, why equator equals nights every day at the equator, why a leap year is needed, why October is the tenth month, and the idea is “okta” - eight, where did the elements from the periodic table come from, and what is the redshift.

    What hinders development? Low level of legal literacy of managers in educational institutions and lower-level officials. Profanity from the side of inflators. Mythology in the minds of people, especially the older generation. We had a child whom my grandmother forbade to attend courses. And why? Because he could not answer the question "what lunar day to pickle cucumbers." Closedness of mid-level officials. By the way, to the highest level - the minister, for example, to get much easier. And the higher the official, the more adequate and welcoming. Difficulty in affiliate program with large structures. Initially, nobody wanted to talk to us at all, not even my native alma mater. And when we visited 35,000 children with lectures for the year, it became more interesting.

    Is there any support from the state? There is no special one, or we don’t know how to do it all. Once we received support as a small business from a local entrepreneurship support fund. The support funds for social business — Our Future, and Towards Changes — helped a lot. Thank you, they are great.

    However, you have to earn money yourself - and this is more difficult psychologically. You could have chosen a different lifestyle for yourself, without getting up at 4 in the morning to go to a lecture at the other end of the region, but we are holding on. This is our way.

    - Is there any recipe for how to captivate a child with astronomy? How do you find a balance between exciting activities and a bunch of formulas that scare many away?

    The balance is by itself, it is in science itself. If someone comes for a worldview, for an awareness of his place in the Universe - he finds it. The guys who come to become astrophysicists and work in Europe are more pragmatic. There are those who are looking for related specialties - space medicine, for example, i.e. I want to be a doctor, but not an ordinary one, that's why they teach astronomy.

    How to interest? According to our research, 90% of those who have attended events and lectures in questionnaires write that they are interested in making astronomy and astronautics a part of their lives. About 15% - find a profession in this industry. This is a good starting point.

    And if you answer the question specifically - to interest, you need to be interested in yourself and be able to feel the audience.

    - A couple of years ago, astronomy was returned to the school curriculum. Can you explain why it was cleaned and returned again?

    The history of experiments with education in our country is not my area of ​​scientific interest, at least because of a violation of the gastrointestinal tract when receiving relevant information.

    The fact is that as such reforms, they may be not bad, like ideas. Lame implementation. Here, in real schools, with real children, the situation does not look like it was on paper, but they report upstairs - yes, everything is round. Although everything is square. And you won’t do anything about it.

    Astronomy was removed from the school course, probably because there is no one to teach, this is my guess. My active work as an astronomer began in an era when the scientific community was fighting for the return of astronomy to school education. And I fought because of the possibilities. Astronomy was returned, but as usual, not without problems.

    Available textbooks are hopelessly outdated. Most of the physics teachers (and yet to teach them) were in an awkward position - but what to read? But as? About a third of the teachers who went through our continuing education courses in plain text reported that it would be better to spend an extra hour on physics.

    Together with partners, we retrained over 150 school teachers. Unfortunately, the level of training is not always high. We will find a lot of interesting things in the future, if the conditions for professional growth of teachers do not appear in the country. While they are forced to deal with papers and take 1.5 or 2 bids to feed themselves. Of course, this is detrimental to the quality of education as such.

    On the popularization of science

    - How and why did you start to popularize science?

    I have already partially spoken out about popularization, but I would like to reinforce this idea with my own, absolutely selfish and vile need - for security. The thing is that the system of my beliefs, based on materialism, secular humanism and other isms, as I feel, is rapidly losing popularity in our society. I will not philosophize whether this is good or bad, but everyone must defend their beliefs. As a representative of science, as a person who believes in scientific and technological progress, and who believes that without a quality education we will return to the darkness of the Middle Ages, I am engaged in popularization. This is not only out of a desire to make the world a better place, but also out of a desire for me and my like people to have a place in it.

    - Is it difficult to be a popularizer of science in Russia? What problems do you face?

    The popularizer in Russia is a curiosity. There is no such profession. She is not, research centers and universities do not pay for it, because they do not even recognize its existence. Even many fellow scientists do not consider popularization as a separate type of activity. And this is a separate type of activity.

    “Today you have 6 lectures and 2 master classes,” the director of the school of astronomy tells me. At the first - elementary school, at the second - secondary, at the third - senior, at the fourth - mixed up all those who did not get on the first or third, you are the fifth in the framework of our concept of charity for blind children, the sixth - before the meeting of veterans labor in the local library. Themes are different everywhere - from the Stonehenge design to the methods of detecting gravitational waves. Everyone should be clear. Everyone should be interested.

    It’s not enough to be able to speak in public and know your material brilliantly. You need to improvise, feel the audience, formulate short answers to the questions (and the question can be for a whole lecture), make a joke in time, look pathos in time, catch the horror in time ... Usual work, in fact - translator from the language of basic science to the philistine language.

    Problems of a purely psychological nature - you do not sleep, speak, work on material, translate newly published articles. This is all so that more sensible applicants come to the university, so that academic performance in schools increases, so that people more often raise their heads, to look at the stars. What do you want from this? If the answer to this question is, you can engage in popularization.

    To go once or twice a year to speak to an initially interested audience somewhere in the capital at an event organized by someone else is, excuse me, a drop in the bucket. And the children in the villages? And in orphanages? Are there no future astrophysicists there?

    - How much time do you spend on popularizing science, and how much - on doing science?

    Popularization and teaching takes almost all the time. It got to the point that I am specifically engaged in science in between lectures and pairs. Of course, this is no good, but while the pool of future popularizers and teachers is growing, and we are developing a popularization school too, there is no other way.

    About astronomy

    - What are astronomers doing all over the world today? What is the most urgent task?

    Probably, a representative of each branch of astronomy will single out the most pressing issues in their specifics. Therefore, without pretending to be objective, I would choose what is most interesting to me.

    Theory of everything . A concept that allows all types of fundamental interactions to be described in a single way. We found gravitational waves, but the particle responsible for the gravitational interaction is not yet available. I would like to know if the standard model is true and be in the era of the development of gravitonics.

    Dark energy. It appeared to explain the discrepancy between theoretically calculated and actually observed speeds of motion of astronomical objects in the galaxy. What is it like? There is no intelligible explanation. So much so that even very controversial articles appear claiming that there is no dark energy, and only the law of conservation of angular momentum does not work.

    Non-Earthly Life. An extremely important thought for the destruction of one's own identity. We discovered other solar systems, including exoplanets similar to the Earth, found water almost everywhere (on Mars, in the soil of asteroids, on the Moon), found organics near hot stars. It remains only to discover life. If we find, we will cease to be chosen, and we will become one of many. It seems to me that this needs to be recognized by the majority - we are not the peak of biological evolution and everything is possible for us, but only one of the options. Be humble. Be proud of achievements, not origin.

    Refinement of the parameters of a quasi-inertial coordinate system- call it that. The point is that all coordinate systems used by mankind are tied to a grid of quasars - distant objects, whose own movements in the sky are insignificant. As a person who passed astrometry, I would very much like to know whether the current quasi-inertial system will be reformed taking into account new observations, and when the time-tracking system based on the observations of pulsars will appear.

    - What recent discovery in astronomy particularly impressed you?

    Gravitational waves, of course. I was already jumping for joy - it’s a miracle when a theory that has been developing for more than 100 years is confirmed by new observation technologies. And the asteroid Oumuamua - migrating from one star system to another. This is a very significant confirmation of the transfer of matter on a Milky Way scale.

    - You are actively dealing with issues of asteroid-comet hazard. Please tell us more about this? What exactly are you doing? What kind of research do you do?

    My task, both in the framework of the dissertation and later on, is the use of numerical methods for studying the long-term orbital evolution of asteroids. To put it bluntly, my task is to calculate how the elements of the orbit (count the coordinates) of asteroids will change at intervals of hundreds and thousands of years.

    The fact is that any mathematical calculation is a model problem, i.e. the accuracy of calculations will depend not only on rounding errors and other purely algorithmic influences, but also on what set of forces acting on the object in reality, I take into account in the equations.

    Another problem is that the study of the motion of asteroids is based on their observation, and even the most accurate observations contain errors. When I determine observation errors, I take model calculations as a basis, and when I check model calculations, should I take observations? It turns out that bad observations can get along well with bad calculations, and my calculations will have nothing to do with the real movement of the asteroid.

    My task is an intermediate, between the discovery and observation of potentially dangerous asteroids and opposing an object that could actually threaten the Earth with a collision. Our possible reaction to the threat of a collision of the Earth with an asteroid will depend on how developed the mechanisms of calculations and forecasts are. In addition, such studies are important from a fundamental point of view, not only in the framework of the asteroid-comet hazard.

    - I know that you saw with your own eyes the fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. What did you feel at that moment? What did it look like?

    It looked like a second Sun, which appeared from behind a cloud where it should not be at all. The flash caught my attention, the brain almost independently estimated the brightness, height above the horizon, the angle of inclination relative to the horizon and the azimuth of direction. Having seen fragmentation, I realized that I was observing the passage of an object through the dense layers of the atmosphere. And since I did not know the size of the object, I could not estimate the energy of the shock wave either. I had to stand at a traffic light - I was waiting for a shock wave. When she did not come, he went to work.

    Was it scary? Well, scary. In these dates, the object 2012 DA14 Duende approached the Earth - a stone with a mass of 40,000 tons. It should not have fallen, the probability was very small, but suddenly? As a result, the object fell almost half as much, which was unknown to science before entering the atmosphere. The day immediately changed the working mode: communicated with the media, with eyewitnesses, with various structures.

    “Did the scientists know that he would fall?” Could such a story repeat itself?

    No, they didn’t. Yes maybe. In terms of asteroid-comet hazard, an object such as Chelyabinsk is a small and modest piece of matter 4.5 billion years old. From the point of view of global catastrophes, this object does not deserve any attention at all, we thought. Indeed, in the framework of the AKO, it is believed that a global catastrophe is a fall of an object from 1 kilometer or more, and a regional one - from 100 meters to 1 kilometer.

    Obviously, these numbers are conditional, and are associated not only with the need to introduce a scale of danger, but also with purely political motives - we can observe large objects in advance and in time to warn.

    Chelyabinsky was not lucky: he could have been fixed if he had flown up from the night side, there were such precedents more than once, but he decided to fly from the morning side, from the side of the sky illuminated by the sun. Of course, given the small size, its brightness against a bright sky background was unremarkable, so no one found it.

    Why was there such a stir? Because the meteorite fell in the vicinity of a large city. On Earth, ⅔ surfaces are covered with water, and not all land is inhabited. Objects fell before the Chelyabinsk event and will fall after. This date is resonant only due to its coverage in the media and the emergence of severe Chelyabinsk meteorite folklore.

    - Doomsday is a myth? Can something fall to Earth that will lead to the end of the world? Is it possible to protect yourself from this?

    The end of the world is not a myth. It just won't happen. From the point of view of the asteroid-comet hazard, the probability of a large object falling that can destroy the biosphere on the Earth’s surface is extremely small.

    We have technologies for detecting and calculating the orbits of such objects, there are methods of counteraction - they have never been used, but they exist. There will be a need for their testing - they will happen. So a large asteroid will not fall to Earth, you can be calm.

    The same applies to regional disasters - larger than 100 meters, we do not expect anything. But "small", from the point of view of astronomy, objects, such as Chelyabinsk - yes, it is more difficult to detect them and no one can guarantee that we will find them in advance, which means that there will be less time to organize countermeasures.

    Therefore, to summarize, there will be no end of the world, but a local catastrophe is possible. I would love to discuss other possible doomsday options: a flash of a nearby supernova, problems with solar radiation, global temperature changes, but these are all separate topics for conversation.

    Photo: Science Slam Ekaterinburg
    On April 19, Pavel will make a presentation at the DUMP conference in Yekaterinburg. Pavel will tell in detail how great the asteroid-comet hazard is, whether humanity can protect itself from it, what means of observation, forecasting and counteraction exist. Get your questions ready!

    Also popular now: