Moon 40mm

Staff Night at Pascoe Vale Girls

Most of the students at Pascoe Vale Girls College have had a chance to view the night sky through the TiS telescope, so now it was the teaching staff’s turn. We had quite a turnout with a few friends and partners coming along as well. Nice way to end the semester…

It was touch and go as to whether the clouds were going clear, but a blessing in disguise, the moon was shielded just enough by the clouds that we could see the moon without a filter. Here is an image taken with a smart phone.

Moon 40mm

This image was taken with the 40mm objective and the f/6.3 focal reducer in. The smart phone was held just above the objective. No filters were used but the moon was covered with cloud.

While everyone was ‘wowing’ over the moon and looking through a variety of objectives, the clouds started to clear up and before we knew it, we were presented with Saturn, Mars and finally the Milky Way. Most importantly, the Northern sky cleared up first and we were able to do a proper alignment. Once again, our alignment method worked extremely well and every object was right on target and tracked beautifully.

We had a look at Saturn. This time we put in the 9mm objective and took out the focal reducer. This gave us the smallest field of view and hence the largest image of Saturn. Note though, that under this configuration, the image is quite difficult to see. We found for ease of viewing, the 18mm objective was the best. There were also moons visible and if you take time to look at the image, you also notice the shadow of the rings on the planet, the colours and the separation of the two main rings.

Look at that!

Who needs a telescope?

Mars was next, but a little disappointing after Saturn. “it’s just a red spot” I think was uttered. But think about this: How small was Mars in comparison to Saturn? How much closer to us is Mars? Now think about how big the rings are and Saturn itself compared to Mars. Having trouble comprehending this?





Saturn Facts:

  • Rings are only 20m thick
  • Rings are over 100,000 km wide
  • Saturn is 18 times bigger than Mars in Diameter
  • Saturn is over 1000 billion km further away from us than Mars or 16 times further away if both planets were at their closest to Earth.
Which one?

Which objective should we use now?

We then had a look at a few deep sky objects in the Milky Way, the Jewel Box cluster and C80 – a globular cluster,  to name a few, where we were able to marvel over the colours and density of stars.


Waiting to use the telescope.

Then it was back to the moon, with the largest magnification possible and the moon filter in. Now we could really see some amazing features on the craters. The shadow edge gives us the most contrast.

Another sensational night and the skies cleared just at the right time for us, because by the time I got home (5mins after packing up) the stars were completely obscured again and the moon was shining through the clouds once more. I think it was time to do some thawing out anyway…

Thanks to Liz Ankers for sharing her photo of the moon, to Lidia Nowara, media teacher at PVGC, who took all the group shots and to all the staff who took time out to come along and learn more about the program and the night sky.


The perfect alignment

Last night we were entertaining the wonderful Year 9 students at Pascoe Vale Girls College and their parents and their siblings. It was great to see over 50 of you there! The skies were perfect too, we had a very clear night and were able to get everyone through a look at Saturn, the Jewel Box Cluster and a globular cluster. I was also inside keeping everyone busy on Stellarium and the Solar System.

Before I talk about achieving the ultimate alignment, just letting you know of our episode on Visions, the University of Melbourne webcast. Have a look and let us know what you think.

Let me run you through the alignment process from last night. It worked so well everything was found very quickly, if not straight away!

Start with the focal reducer in and the 40mm objective. This will give you the widest field of view.

Step 1: get out a compass and find North, then place the telescope facing North and the control panel facing South. Smart phones are not necessarily the best compass. Don’t place the compass on the telescope, all that metal is sure to cause some interference!

Step 2: using a builder’s level placed on the fork, extend each of the legs until the bubble is in the centre (telescope is aligned). Check lots of different directions! It is amazing how a slope in the ground can go unnoticed. You could also try a circular level and not have to worry about moving it around.

Step 3: Place the telescope in the home direction, facing North and level with the horizontal. (again use that builder’s level)

Step 4: Use the 2 star alignment, but here comes the important part:

  • pick the two stars in the North of the sky and near as possible to the horizon.
  • Last night we chose Procyon and Arcturus
  • centre them in the main telescope

If you are unsure of which stars to choose, you can download a program that calculates the best stars for you!

Best Pair II or AstroPlanner will do the calculations for you.

If you have any further hints or ideas on getting the best alignment, please let us know!

First evening in Shepparton

Last week saw our first night-time observing session at McGuire College in Shepparton. Both Belinda and I were very excited to be going, just imagine, no light pollution, no smog, just a lot of stars! More stars than most of us city people will ever see. The weather looked promising too, so no clouds meant a perfect night!

This first night-time session was to follow on from a very successful Transit of Venus day held at the school on the 6th where the local primary schools popped in to have a look, parents as well as the students from McGuire. What a sensational community event! So good, the Shepparton News visited and wrote a story. It made front page!

For the first session, the Year 7 SEAL group had been invited along and most of the students turned up with their whole family in tow. It was great to see so many excited people coming along.

We started with a short video “Bigger than Big” on the size of the objects in our Solar System which were then compared to the stars we see in the night sky. After this serious hit of reality we split into two groups, one to use the telescope and the other to investigate the size of our Solar System further. It was great to see everyone get involved and ask so many clever questions.

Quote of the night; “I love learning about the Solar System.” We hope you enjoy learning about all the other things in our Universe just as much!

McGuire fist night

Students and parents looking at the stars.

Unfortunately, while we had been treated to the video on the stars, the clouds had completely covered our view to the North, so Mars and Saturn were obscured for the evening. Lucky for us, the Southern sky was completely clear and we got to see so many stars. We had many a demonstration on how when we look up at the sky with just our eye, we might see 2 or 3 stars, but looking through the telescope we could see so many stars, they looked like clouds! We were able to identify many constellations and I was told of stories of how these locals often go star gazing or take their own astrophotography.

McGuire Obs 1_2

More star gazing

We had a great night and no-one wanted to leave. We look forward to seeing everyone again and viewing more stars and some planets too!

Venus Transit

Transit of Venus Part II

Well it’s been a huge couple of weeks getting ready for the Transit, but it was worth every moment. What a sensational day and it was fantastic to see so many schools getting on board for this historical event.

I had spent most of the weekend beforehand making the solar filters for three of the TiS telescopes. Apparently there had been a bit of a rush on Solar filters and it was hard to get one to fit a 12″ scope. Can’t understand why!? Anyway, after the third, I became quite the expert…at making off-centre filters that is.

Home made filter

Last of the finished filters

As it happened, these $10 filters worked brilliantly and we saw the most amazing images of Venus passing in front of the Sun, but more of that soon.

The start of the week, saw me heading out to Pascoe Vale Girls College to help organise the day and test the filter. Turned out, the staff there had done an AMAZING job getting everything ready, especially as there may have been some media presence coming on the day. The school as a whole was also extremely supportive and it was wonderful to meet the Science staff at morning tea. Unfortunately, it was really cloudy on Monday, so no testing of the filter, that was going to have to wait until Wednesday.

Tuesday was when Vikram (Astrophysics PhD student) and I took one of our scopes out to Scienceworks for their Transit event. Vikram was also helping out at the Melbourne Planetariumon the day, so a crash course on setting up the telescope was in order. From all accounts, the day at Scienceworks was a sensational day and thank you to Vikram for helping so many people view the Transit.

Tanya Hill at Transit

Dr Tanya Hill and her sons at the Transit of Venus at Scienceworks

On Tuesday night Dr Bart Pindor (from Astrophysics Group) gave a sold out talk at The University of Melbourne on the Transit which was extremely well received.

Telescope with filter

Telescope with filter on at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Then the big day finally arrived. First a message at 7am to say that the media were coming to the school, then it was off to Pascoe Vale Girls College for me. We had the scope out, the filter on, pointing in the general direction of the sun and a beautiful clear sky with only one cloud in it – right where the sun was! There was also a line of students starting to form, ready for their first view of Venus. A bit of wind meant that while we missed the ingress exterior, we did get to see Venus pass into the Sun and had a great two hour session of viewing time. Paul from the Astrophysics Group also came along for the day and had a ball adjusting the telescope and answering the many wonderful questions from the students and staff. During this time, we had hundreds of students and staff have a look both through the telescope and the Eclipse glasses. There was so much excitement when they realised what they were really looking at.

Girls with their glasses on.

Girls trying on their glasses for the cameras

Quote of the day: “That’s so cool! Now I’ve seen my third planet!!” from Year 12 student Abier Ayoubi

During this time, the camera crews had turned up, the media crew from Melbourne University to do a piece for Visions (Stay tuned for this) and Channel 10. As you can imagine, the students were VERY excited by this. In the end, there was a report done on the day and the school by both Channel 10 and Channel 7! Sensational work girls.

Posing for the media crew

Posing for the media crew

While there was plenty of excitement happening in Pascoe Vale and Spotswood, there were a few other observing sessions happening as well. Dr Shane, our technical guru was taking his own images of the transit. I think you will agree, that they just look amazing. He was using his 8″ Meade with a Thorlabs camera.

Venus Transit

The Ingress

At Melbourne University, the Astrophysics Group had a couple of telescopes out and were projecting the image of the Sun for all passersby to see. We had tweets all day, sending in message and photos and the queues didn’t cease all day! One of the telescopes was viewing it’s forth Transit of Venus, something none of us humans will probably be ever able to do! Well done to Brad and Mark for organising it.

Suzanne Cory High School, another of our host schools, they had a smaller telescope set up and were projecting the image onto a screen. You can clearly see Venus in the Sun, but have a look at all the sunspots as well! What an amazing image! I have a feeling some more daytime viewing and sunspot investigations will be happening throughout the year!

Transit at Suzanne Cory

The projected image of the Transit at Suzanne Cory

Transit and sunspots

Venus and sunspots at Suzanne Cory

McGuire College in Shepparton, yet another host school, also had a solar scope out and the story made the local paper. They had both the primary school and the senior school look at the Transit and nice weather for it too!

Lastly, Quantum Victoria also had their TiS scope out with home made filter. It was a busy day for Quantum Victoria, but they still had time to get many students through to look at the Transit and are also planning on doing some sunspot investigations. We are so glad you had a great day.

All in all, everyone had a fantastic day and saw some amazing astronomy. Thank you to all the schools who put in such a huge effort to organise the event. Thank you to the Astrophysics volunteers who helped at the various locations and our partners, Melbourne Planetarium and Quantum Victoria, we are proud to have been a part of your day too.

Images from Suzanne Cory High School

Last Thursday night saw us back at Suzanne Cory High School with another sensational bunch of Year 9 students. The night was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, the telescope aligned beautifully and the moon was up high. We also had binoculars set up and a small telescope for looking at the moon. Would you believe that this was the first time we have been able to look at the moon. The first night was cloudy and for the second night the moon had not risen yet. For an object that is so familiar and always seems to be there, I was still surprised that this was going to be the first time the students had seen the craters on the moon.

Observing at Suzanne Cory

Looking through the telescope with parents looking on, discussing the astronomy of course!

As it was such a great night weatherwise, we spent the entire two hours with the telescopes! We had about 10 students, a couple of parents joined us and one student was back for her third observation night! Stephanie, our undergrad helper, was sensational on the telescope and did a great job finding the Moon, Saturn and Mars for us to have a look at. We also had plenty of time, so decided to investigate what happens when we change the objective lens. It was great that the students were able to compare the view through binoculars, a small telescope, then the TiS 12″ with a variety of objectives.

Lastly, there were some photos taken of the moon, first with the digital SLR and then not to be outdone, the students got their phones out and were taking images (come back soon to see what they came up with!)

Moon shot

Image of the moon taken with DSLR by teacher Bruce Drummond

In all, a fantastic time of looking at the night sky!

Moon shot through 12"

Another moon shot taken by Mr Drummond through the 12″ telescope objective.