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A Touch of Space Weather - Outreach project for visually impaired students

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A Touch of Space Weather brings the science of space weather into the hands and ears of blind and visually impaired students. Through workshops and a website, students can explore the Sun, Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, aurora, and other space weather-related topics through touch and sounds. The project developed tactile images for children's workshops so the children can visualise space weather through touch. It also provides online tutorials on the website and will soon offer audio booklets.
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Audio booklets

With our project, A Touch of Space Weather, we create a series of audio booklets that explain various topics related to space weather, such as the Sun, Earth’s atmosphere, or Moon exploration. The topics were chosen with teachers and assistants of blind and visually impaired students, so they can fit into secondary school lessons, for students aged 11-16.

Tactile images

Like children without visual impairment, blind and visually impaired children need to visualise/imagine the first-time-heard terms, such as ‘magnetosphere’ or ‘solar wind’. Therefore, we have developed nine tactile images showing:

but also tactile images explaining some space weather impacts, such as loss of radio communication and power system blackouts.

All tactile images are created from materials that are not expensive and easy to get in hobby shops. Therefore, anyone can easily recreate them, including parents, friends, and teachers of blind and visually impaired children. The instructions and video tutorials are published on the project website.

To truly engage blind and visually impaired students, we visited two schools focused on the needs of these specific students (De Kade and IRSA in Belgium), where we presented our tactile images and briefly talked about space weather. Some students were very moved when ‘feeling’ for the first time the aurora and its flow and experiencing the solar wind movement along the magnetic field lines of Earth.

Learning about inclusivity

We also decided to engage children that are not blind or visually impaired to create their own tactile images, inspired by our images, through several workshops (Astropolis Space Village, Open Days at The Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, and the visits to the European School and Bogaert International School).

This way, children learned not only about space weather but also about inclusivity.

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Figure 2 caption (legend)
Blind and visually impaired students interact with the tactile images of space weather, assisted by teachers and researchers. Several tactile images are spread on grey tables in a brightly decorated room, in front of three students with two assistants, as they interact with the phenomena being described by the images.
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Figure 3 caption (legend)
Examples of the tactile images developed within the project. The top images show the Earth’s magnetosphere and interaction with the solar wind particles. The bottom left image shows the Sun with two different types of solar wind, and energetic particles, and the bottom right image shows the radiation belts around Earth.
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