First Night at Pascoe Vale

Last Tuesday after much deliberation and inspection of the Bureau of Meterology‘s satellite images, we decided to throw caution to the wind (literally) and hold the first student observation night at Pascoe Vale Girls College. While it was cloudy all day, around 5pm the clouds fell away and we were left with a (mostly) clear sky.

After a brief discussion on safety around the telescope, we trouped out into the courtyard in our winter jackets and got to see some amazing sights. There were squeals over Saturn and the rings. Much nodding of heads over Mars, and plenty of ‘that’s so pretty’ when we had a look at the Jewel Box Nebula.

Pascoe Vale Girls College Obs Night

The girls from PVGC looking at Saturn

Quotes from the evening;

“If I’d done this in Year 7, I would have loved Science”

“Best night ever”

We finished up with one last quick look at Saturn, before the clouds decided we had had enough for one night. So with stars in their eyes (literally again), the girls headed inside to think about what they had just seen. They split into groups, one group did an exercise on Parallax, another played on Stellarium and the last group tried to order a number of objects on the basis of their age, size and distance from Earth.

Telescope and teachers

There was a telescope in there somewhere!

Thank you to all the students for all your amazing questions, your tremendous interest and great enthusiasm. We are glad you all had such an enjoyable night and we look forward to showing you so much more Astronomy.

Parallax Activity

Girls using the Parallax method to determine the distance to a nearby star.

Transit of Venus

On the 6th June 2012, Venus is going to pass in front of the Sun. Venus will start to move across the Sun (ingress) at 8:15am and will finish it’s transit (egress) at 2:45pm in Melbourne. This makes Australia one of the optimal places to observe this astronomical event.

Transit of Venus

Image from Wikipedia

The Transit of Venus last occurred in 2004 and the next one will be in 2117, so it is a once (or twice) in a life-time event. Despite Venus passing between the Earth and the Sun every 1.6 years, the transits occur in pairs of 8 years, which are then separated by over 100 years. This arises due to the orientation of Venus’ orbit, so Venus usually passes above or below the Sun from the Earth’s perspective.

The history of the Transit is quite remarkable for Australia too. Halley (of the comet fame) predicted the next one for 1761 and would provide a method to measure the size of the Solar System, but would not be alive to see it. Bad weather meant it wasn’t until 1769 that the transit would be viewed. The Endeavour, with Captain James Cook, set out to observe the transit in Tahiti on 3rd June 1769. The remainder of his voyage went on to find Australia and New Zealand.


So, how do we get to view this momentous event?

There are many options and they all require you not to look straight at the Sun, especially through a telescope, binoculars or camera.

  • Obtain a solar telescope, specifically for observing the sun
  • Fit your current telescope with a solar filter that blocks out 99.999% of the Sun’s rays. For a large telescope (over 8″) an off-centre filter is more than suitable.
  • Make your own filter using solar film. Ensure you continually check that there are no holes or scratches on your filter whenever you use it
  • If you have a small refractor telescope, you can make a projection screen.
  • You can set up a pair of binoculars to project an image.
  • You can purchase inexpensive disposable solar glasses for viewing the sun.

If this is not possible, there are many websites doing live feeds, so you can observe the event from the comfort of your lounge/classroom.

Want to make your own measurements?

There are a lot of people taking measurements and many ways you can get involved and make the calculations.

Here are just a couple:

You can practice with images taken from the 2004 transit.

You can use a Parallax calculator.

How is The University of Melbourne and TiS getting involved?

  • The Astrophysics Group at the University will have a telescope set up with a projected image for the duration of the transit at the athletics field until 10am, then onto the Concrete Lawn.
  • The Melbourne Planetarium will be hosting a breakfast, talk and viewing opportunity with one of our telescopes, in addition to their own.
  • Quantum Victoria will have their TiS telescope running for the day with a couple of schools observing the event.
  • One of our host schools, Pascoe Vale Girls College, going to spend the day taking images of the transit to provide the data for measuring the Astronomical Unit (AU distance between the Sun and Earth) just as Captain James Cook did in 1769.

More resources

Transit of Venus Australia official website

Information on Wikipedia

Transit of with History, activities, free iPhone App and safety information


Safety is a huge aspect of this event and much caution should be taken whenever you are observing the Sun.

  • NEVER look directly into the Sun
  • Sunglasses and smoked glass are not enough, you must only use film or glass that has been specifically made for solar observation
  • Always use a filter on the telescope (solar glasses are not enough)
  • DONT look through the finderscope to align your scope, use the shadow of the telescope.
  • Each time you use your filter check for holes or scratches, DO NOT use if there are any scratches and fit holes if possible.
  • Read all the instructions on any device you are using.


In my last post I talked about a couple of Art/Astronomy competitions, namely the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition  and the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures 2012 Contest. Check the links or the last post for details.

If you are not an artist but still like to contemplate the large cosmological ideas, particularly, is there life on other planets… this may be the competition for you. The University of Chicago is offering a large prize for an international essay writing competition for High School and College students.

The High School Topic is

Are we alone in the Universe?
Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

The Due Date: 15th June 2012.

All details, FAQs, registration, etc can be found on the New Cosmic Frontiers website.

Get creating and good luck!

News and Updates

It’s time to update you on what is happening in the Astrophysics community and on our website. There is much to report on and get involved in.


New on our website is a Gallery of images taken on the 12″ LX200-ACF Meade Telescope. We have images of planets, nebulae and a globular cluster. Tell us which one is your favourite and why! There are more coming of the Moon, Mars, a galaxy… We look forward to seeing what our students come up with.

There is also a Forum you can participate in to discuss all aspects of the Telescopes in Schools Program and Astronomy in general. Please register, and participate in the discussions.

Astro News

Transit of Venus

Most of you have probably heard that Venus is going to pass in front of the Sun on 6th June this year. Did you know that we, in Australia, have the best view in the world for this event? Look around, there is a lot of information, activities about the event, Apps and organised viewings both streamed online and live. Here is a good place to start;


Transit of Venus Australia 2012

Transit of

There is an amazing history involving Australia regarding the Transit of Venus and it won’t be happening again in our lifetime.

*Please note that looking directly into the sun is very dangerous and special filters or glasses should be worn (Sunglasses are not enough!). See the sites above for safe ways to view the sun.*


Three years ago, NASA launched a spacecraft called Kepler. This spacecraft is essentially a Schmidt telescope designed for the single purpose of looking at how stars vary in their brightness to determine if they have their own solar system, and perhaps if these planets are in what we call the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. Not too hot, not too cold, but juuust right! Really, they are looking for a planet which is similar to Earth and may have life.

This has been an extremely successful program and Kepler has identified 1000’s of these Exoplanets in our galaxy. But Kepler 22b is the first confirmed planet in the Goldilocks Zone and most likely a rocky planet like Earth.

Kepler Mission

Kepler 22b

You can also help NASA find these planets through Planet Hunters as part of the Zooniverse. Get involved and help do some real research, who knows, you may find your own planet!


There are also a couple of international competitions underway at the moment;

The international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition encourages youth to “Be Inspired, Creative and Heard.” Closing date 21 Oct 2012

Hubble’s Hidden Treasures 2012 Contest where you can process one of Hubble’s images and turn it into an amazing piece of Art. Closing date 31st May 2012.