It's not usual to have professional astronomers visiting Sri Lanka, in fact the number of Sri Lankan Professional Astronomers are probably less than a dozen and most of them resides abroad except Prof. Kavan Ratnatunga, a retired research astronomer who's settled in Colombo enjoying his hobbies and serving as the President of Sri Lankan Astronomical Association. Of course whenever any of our astronomers visit Sri Lanka for holiday, I never miss the opportunity to get hold of them and organize events locally. It's not everyday you meet an astronomer, and students find it fascinating to meet and discuss astronomy with a "real" astronomer.
Other than the Sri Lankan astronomers, we have been visited time to time over the years by a foreign astronomer - Michael Snowden - who's very fond of Sri Lanka, and a long term friend of late Sir Arthur C Clarke. I met Micahel through Prof. Kavan in 2005 and ever since we have been good friends and done quite a few programs together. In his last visit in March 2010, I organized a discussion session called "Ask an Astronomer" for few high school students which turned out to be very well received. The objective of the session was to gather couple of students who are serious about pursuing higher studies in Astronomy and give them an opportunity to interact with an astronomer directly, learning, raising their questions, sharing their views...
Michael returned last month again, and as usual I organized couple of events with him. We managed to do another session on "Ask an Astronomer" with 6 high school students. The discussion started with Michael talking about Exoplanets - a much discussed topic these days and then the students got the opportunity to join the discussion raising questions and talking various aspects of Astronomy. Also another important subject discussed during the session was higher education in Astronomy! Each student talked about their field of interest in astronomy and was advised how they can achieve it, what are the available options, etc... Overall the session went well clearing some doubts, sharing more knowledge and most of all inspiring them to continue the path to higher education in Astronomy.
This was a much needed session as Sri Lanka currently is in a critical place as there are only 2 students doing higher studies in Astronomy or related fields. Although the interest in astronomy among students is high, many hesitant to continue that enthusiasm to do higher studies mainly due to lack of guidance, financial support, less awareness of opportunities, etc... Via Sri Lanka Astronomical Association, we hope to hold more of these sessions to help the students and encourage them to pursuit their dream.
The session was also a part of "ET are you out there - Voyager Campaign" and was held on the 30 October 2010 at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo.