The Telescopes in Schools Program is an exciting outreach initiative by the Astrophysics Group at The University of Melbourne that places research grade telescopes into secondary schools around Melbourne and regional Victoria. The program was originally founded in 2011 by Professor Rachel Webster, head of Astrophysics at University of Melbourne and Dr Shane Huntington, 3RRR presenter and Principal Strategy Advisor to the Dean of Medicine, and has since facilitated over 300 observing events and had attendance of over 10,000 visitors and volunteers to the program. Telescopes in Schools was also the co-founder with Mount Burnett Observatory and Scienceworks of the AstroLight Festival, an annual science festival celebrating astronomy and light.
Twelve schools have received a 12 inch LX200-ACF Meade telescope or 9.25 inch Celestron telescope with all the necessary accessories to observe the night sky, image the objects in the night sky and conduct small research projects. These telescopes are large enough to view deep sky objects such as nebulae and far away galaxies or zero in on a crater on the moon. They are fully computerised and can find any catalogued object you may wish to look at. Once the object is located, the telescope will track that object, so that an hour later, it is still in your field of view!
For a minimum of 6 nights a year, small groups of secondary school students will be treated to an opportunity to hear an astrophysicist speak or perform some activities, then head out to the observation site where they will learn how to set up and drive the telescope. Once they have become proficient in handling the telescope, they will then have the opportunity to look at objects, image them and even conduct a research project.
The observation nights will be attended by members of the Astrophysics group, the high school teachers, the students and parents are encouraged to come along. The program will be tailored to suit the interests and abilities of each participating school.
This site hosts a blog about our activities, a gallery of images taken by our group and some excellent resources for hosting an observation night, teaching astrophysics in schools and finding out about astrophysics in general.
We would like to thank the University of Melbourne HEPPP grant scheme for the seed funding to begin this project and for the Laby Foundation who continues their generous support for the program since 2013.