Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Sky's the Limit! Visnjan Observatory Crowdfunding Campaign A Success!

January 18, 2021 – The Visnjan Observatory Crowdfunding Campaign has been successfully completed. With 1.300.000 kuna collected, new generations of future Croatian scientists will get a new geodesic dome, accommodation facilities, and a location for testing robotic telescopes.

One of the most prominent Croatian organizations that have been educating future Croatian scientists for several decades will soon be adorned with new equipment and accommodation facilities for many students who have been coming to Višnjan for years to learn about astronomy.

Monitoring and detecting asteroids, but also educating future scientists

The Višnjan Observatory has been at the very top of the world for more than 40 years when it comes to tracking and detecting asteroids, these potentially hazardous and mysterious celestial bodies. According to that, this small observatory in the heart of Istria is ahead of the American NASA. It is one of the five most important observatories for measuring the position of newly discovered objects that could pass close to the Earth.

Its founder, award-winning Croatian astronomer Korado Korlević, is one of the most successful asteroid hunters globally and, according to Minor Planet Discoverers, is the 18th most productive asteroid hunter of all time.


Višnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

Between 1995 and 2000, the Observatory discovered over 1,400 new asteroids and two comets. Monitoring and detection of asteroids is undoubtedly an important scientific activity of the Observatory, but perhaps even more important and invaluable for Croatia is the educational function of the Observatory.

The Višnjan Observatory hosts many highly motivated and gifted primary and secondary school students in its practical science camps every year. Some of the former attendees are now scientists at NASA, JPL, and other world-renowned scientific institutions, and some of them are yet to become so.

'Investing in children is the largest and only profitable investment'

In early December last year, TCN reported on a crowdfunding campaign launched to improve the educational capacity of the Visnjan Observatory. Already then, at the very beginning of the campaign, they raised 50 percent of the targeted funds, or 306,000 kuna (the first goal was to raise 635,000 kuna). This enabled them to ensure a beautiful geodesic dome, resembling a habitat on Mars, in which lectures will be held.

Aco Momčilović, the campaign's project manager, says the speed of collecting the donations somewhat surprised the team. However, given the very positive feedback from all who donated, they decided to raise the ultimate goal.


Višnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

As they soon achieved the first goal, they continued to increase it over the next month. At the end of the campaign, on January 15, 2021, they collected as much as 1,300,000 kuna, or almost ten percent more than the ultimate goal of 1,185,000 kuna.

This now enables them to build bungalows, accommodation facilities for children, but also their professors, mentors, and other supporters. Since the educational camps last for several days, the Višnjan Observatory wants to make everyone feel comfortable during that time.

With the donations received, Korado Korlević plans to establish a location for testing robotic telescopes and additional accommodation facilities for students. Investing in children, he says, is the largest and only profitable investment.

Construction of new facilities expected this year

Even after the campaign officially ended, people still donate money, which is an excellent indicator of the Višnjan Observatory's influence, as well as the respect for Korado Korlević's hard and dedicated work.

"I also see this campaign as a mini-movement, an initiative that unites different segments of society – entrepreneurs and their companies, scientists in Croatia and abroad. I already know that this action has encouraged some to launch similar campaigns aimed at improving education for young people and promoting science and other long-term most valuable aspects of society," says Momčilović.

Now follows the less visible but even longer part of the job – completing the administration and transferring money, and then launching and achieving the listed goals.

Hopefully, part of the necessary bureaucracy for construction works will be completed by the middle of this year so that the construction of new facilities could start as soon as possible. Depending on the suppliers, the construction works should begin within six months.


Apart from being known for the Observatory, the small town of Visnjan is rich in historical heritage / Photo: Istrian County Tourist Board

Biggest donators to enjoy gala dinner with Korado Korlević

At the start of the campaign, no one could have predicted that numerous donations would have to be targeted at the quake-hit area by the end of December. Despite that, the desired amount of 1,185,000 kuna was successfully collected for the educational purposes of the Višnjan Observatory.

Organizers believed that support for science would not lack even in the challenging 2020, when science, critical thinking, and the knowledge of future generations are particularly under attack.

"December was an interesting choice. We couldn't do the campaign earlier because not everything was ready. In late December and early January, most of the donations were certainly diverted to earthquake-hit areas. Still, it was interesting to see that we continued to receive donations and that some people obviously donate in more places or still see educational projects as a goal," says Momčilović.

In those six weeks, how long the campaign lasted, about 2500 people donated funds, proving how many people are willing to support science and youth education. To thank the donors, the organizers decided to provide them with "rewards."

Namely, the most generous donors will enjoy a gala dinner with Korado Korlević this year. In contrast, others will be able to participate in his exclusive lectures in the inspiring environment of the Višnjan Observatory, where they will look through telescopes and learn about observing the night sky in Istria in search of asteroids. Some will meet Korlević and ask everything about the universe through the online webinar "Ask the Astronomer," planned for the first half of 2021.

All donors had the opportunity to make electronic thank you notes. A plaque with all major donors' names will be printed in Višnjan on the new facilities' opening day in late 2021 or 2022.


Višnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

After this campaign, they want to realize another technological improvement in the Višnjan Observatory, but they still have time to decide on a new campaign.

'The smarter the children, the more society progresses'

As Momčilović explains, this campaign is unique because it does not solve one individual problem at a time but invests in the long-term improvement of children's educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, there will always be a need for humanitarian actions, but he and the core team got involved in this action because they believe that in this way, they support the broader system.

"The smarter and more educated children we have, the more society progresses. With this campaign, we did not aim to solve one of the many burning problems, especially in this post-earthquake time, but to create a part of the system that will give the greatest return on investment in the long run," Momčilović points out.

Unfortunately, most of the donation resources are spent inefficiently, and only about 1 percent of the 'smartest' donations make up almost the entire total global contribution. Therefore, Momčilović says, perhaps the Višnjan Observatory crowdfunding campaign is "the beginning of a smarter and more thoughtful view of humanitarian work."

Friday, 11 December 2020

Crowdfunding Campaign Launched for Visnjan Observatory

December 11, 2020 – A crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising 635,000 kuna was launched to expand the existing and build the new educational capacities of the Visnjan Observatory, the third-best in the world in the number of detected asteroids that are a potential threat to life on Earth.

Located on the edge of the western Istrian plateau, Visnjan Observatory is probably the most prominent Croatian organization that has educated future Croatian scientists for several decades.

At the beginning of December, a group of volunteers launched a large crowdfunding campaign in its favor and in favor of the Astronomical Society of Visnjan, the association that manages the Observatory. The goal is to raise 635,000 kuna by the end of December, and the Astronomical Society Visnjan will invest the donated funds in the construction of new education facilities.

The worth of investing in children

If the campaign raises 300,000 kuna, a new geodetic dome will be built, which will enable the maintenance of larger educational and practical programs. If the campaign reaches the target of 635,000 kuna, additional bungalows will be built where the Visnjan Observatory will accommodate a larger number of children, their professors, and mentors.


Visnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

In case the collected amounts exceed the target amount of 635,000 kuna, the head of the Visnjan Observatory, prominent Croatian astronomer Korado Korlević plans to establish a location for testing robotic telescopes and additional capacity to accommodate students. This award-winning communicator and selfless knowledge-giver, at the same time, one of the most successful asteroid hunters in the world, believes that investing in children is the most significant and only investment worth working for.

Educating future NASA scientists

The Visnjan Observatory is Croatian pride at the global level, both scientifically and educationally. For forty years, it has been at the very top of the world in tracking and detecting asteroids, which are potentially very dangerous for life on planet Earth. That is why this small Observatory in the heart of Istria is even ahead of the American NASA.

During 2018 and 2019, the Observatory discovered and documented over 1,400 asteroids. However, although the monitoring and detection of asteroids is a significant scientific activity of the Visnjan Observatory, for Croatia, it is even more important for educating children and youth about science, technology, and the entire STEM field.

So far, thousands of primary and secondary school students have attended educational programs here. Some of these children are now adults working as scientists in prominent Croatian and world scientific institutions, such as NASA and JPL.


Visnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

Some of today's scientists who discovered the first mysteries of the cosmos as kids attending the educational programs of the Visnjan Observatory are Mario Jurić and Vernesa Smolčić. Today, Mario Jurić is s professor and director of the DiRac Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA.

"Schools and work in Visnjan have shown me that there are no limits to possibilities. They have shown me that with a lot of work, creativity, self-belief, and great mentors, a group of kids from Croatia can build something competitive with the strongest observatories in the world. Let us never ask ourselves can we do something, but rather how we could do it," says Jurić.

Today, Vernesa Smolčić is an astrophysicist and a professor at the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb.

"Visnjan was my turning point in terms of breaking down mental limitations. With Korado, everything just clicked in me," says Smolčić.


Visnjan Observatory / Copyright Romulić and Stojčić

Gala dinner awaits big donors

Visnjan Observatory has managed to do all this with very modest capacities, based on volunteer work and donations. That is why this crowdfunding campaign is one of the larger actions taken to make the Visnjan Observatory accept, accommodate, and educate a significantly larger number of children and youth in its educational camps as early as 2021.

"I invite science lovers and people in Croatia and abroad who care about the education of our children about science and technology to support the campaign with donations, as much as anyone can. You can donate any amount, say 25 kunas or more. If you can't donate now or later, it also helps to share a link to an ongoing campaign. We hope that large donors will join too because an exclusive gala dinner with Korado Korlević has been prepared for them," said Aco Momčilović, head of the crowdfunding campaign.

Donations can be given on the Croatian platform croinvest.eu, and the contribution can be paid via a simple payment slip, via internet banking, credit cards, and even via cryptocurrencies. By writing this article, 50 percent of the targeted funds, or 306,000 kunas, had been raised.

Source: croinvest.eu, astro.hr.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Višnjan Observatory Most Successful after NASA, Ahead of US Army and ESA

The Višnjan Observatory, that is, the new observatory on Tičan hill, is the second most successful in detecting asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth, according to the recently published statistics by the Minor Planets Center of the International Astronomical Union, reports Dalmacija Danas on March 14, 2019. 

Since the beginning of 2019, the Croatian team performed 54.5% of the work in monitoring the objects passing near the Earth that could pose a possible threat to it (Near Earth Objects - NEO). Thus, they are placed directly behind NASA, and in front of the US Army and the European Space Agency (ESA). 

The Legend of Croatian astronomy Korado Korlević, one of the most prolific asteroid hunters, says that astronomers sometimes joke, calling them the "Wallmart of World Astronomy" in the sense that they have the best price ratios concerning the product. Namely, they spend the least when the work accomplished is taken into account, since they do not have any institutional funding.

“For example, the European Space Agency has two observatories in this business. They are six times worse than us,” Korlević explained.

In the last thirty years, the observatory network has developed around the world and generations of experts are being raised to detect and monitor objects that are dangerous to the Earth to foresee and thwart catastrophes such as the recent meteor in Chelyabinsk or the explosion in Tunguska in 1908. 

So far, more than 19,000 objects that run as NEO are known, and this number increases each month by another two hundred discoveries. Yet, this job is still not near completion. American astronomers from Hawaii, Arizona, California and South America form the backbone of the network for detection and follow-up, while Višnjan has become increasingly prominent as their essential ally in Europe.

"Among the American asteroid hunters, the Višnjan Observatory is labeled with the codename 'L01’. The Americans are not surprised by our success because there are plenty of scientists in their queues who spent part of their childhood in Višnjan. Also, L01 was third in the world in 2018,” according to Korlević. 

The team has traditionally been in the top for years, but second place is extra special. 

"Elemental disaster and ice rains on Hawaiian volcanoes blocked the observatory there, and unusually cloudy weather over the US deserts reduced the ability to track the sky from the beginning of this year. The observatory of the European and Japanese space agencies and the observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Arts took over 20% of the assistance, which is not enough to follow the bodies, or make sure you don’t lose them,” says Korlevic.

The secret of Višnjan’s success is thanks to two factors. To understand the first one, one should bear in mind that this is a project that sees many observatories around the world participate. Namely, after an observatory in Hawaii discovers a NEO, other observatories take over monitoring it. Otherwise, the object is lost. 

“We are about 12 hours from Hawaii, and therefore we are almost in the ideal position to take over tracking the objects they discover. They will say - in this and that bush there could be a rabbit - and then we scrutinize the bushes. In the end, the International Astronomical Union announces that this combined work discovered the object,” explains Korlević. 

But this is by no means the whole answer. Another, more important part of the secret of Višnjan's success is the development of new methods that enabled the team to be top-notch with few resources. Korlević says that the usual recommendation is to follow the “best practice of others”, which is not the smartest.

“The best practice should be created. We started to work the way others do not work. We expect some of them to begin following us now, because this is the most effective, although it is challenging to work in such a way. We made improvements in several places, from optimizing observations to accepting that with a larger telescope, not every cloudy night is equally cloudy if infrared light is used,” Korlević and emphasizes that he has a great team of students and mentors who are capable of thinking innovatively.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

President Against Abolition of Small Municipalities

ZAGREB, July 22, 2018 - President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović attended on Saturday a special session of the Višnjan municipal council in the northern Croatian peninsula of Istria and said that, despite efforts to abolish small municipalities, those municipalities, like Višnjan, although small, have a great development potential.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Ten New Asteroids Discovered by Višnjan Observatory

Great news from the Croatian astronomical community!