Last month Auckland lost a true champion of science for young people. In particular, Eric Jackson worked tirelessly for forty years in the development and promotion of daytime astronomy in schools.

Astronomy is thought of as a night time activity, which is outside the normal reach of school teachers. Early in his position as an Auckland School Science Advisor he recognised the tremendous value of utilising the daytime hours while children are at school.

Eric devoted enormous energy and enthusiasm accompanied by thoughtful observation in everything he did, and revealing the secrets of the Sun’s cycles to school children was no exception.

This led to an astronomical climbing frame developed with assistance from people such as Frank Andrews, Brian Marino, Mike Wilkins and Larry Randell. The name ‘Pipehenge’ was suggested by Lyn Shannon and the apparatus that improves on Stonehenge was born.

Scores have been installed around New Zealand and across the world. A manual of classroom activities accompanied this permanent fixture, soon followed by two different portable Pipehenges that are assembled from components carried in a nylon bag. A ‘wirehenge’ is used in conjunction with an Earth globe to demonstrate our ‘upside down’ orientation in the Southern Hemisphere.

At the suggestion of Larry Rand (President of the New York Science Teachers Association) a table-top adaptation was developed. For more advanced students, the Earth Space Simulator (ESS) also illustrates concepts such as the ecliptic and celestial equator at different latitudes.

Eric had a long association with Stardome, serving on Stardome’s Education Consultative Group for many years. He personally supervised the installation of the Pipehenge at Stardome, which is a valuable feature of Stardome facilities used by the public and visiting education groups.

Eric enthusiastically extolled the wonder and uses of the Sun’s shadows and cycles at every opportunity. Many of his ideas have been incorporated into how the daily and yearly cycles of the Earth and Sun are explained to young and old alike.

He will be greatly missed.

David Britten, Astronomy Educator 

Images:

Top: Left – Eric demonstrating the Portable Pipehenge at Birmingham University Exhibition, 1994. Right – Pipehenge at Stardome.

Above: Left – Earth Space Simulator (ESS). Right – The Pipehenge at the Girl Scout camp at Wasilla an hour north of Anchorage, Alaska, (62° north, near the Arctic Circle) endures winter temperatures down to –40°C.