Maya and Constellation

Day out in Shepparton

It was another busy week this week, another observing night at Charles La Trobe with the Quantum Victoria team on Monday night, then off to McGuire College in Shepparton on Tuesday. Pascoe Vale Girls College also had an observing session on Tuesday and they were treated to a presentation from some of the Astro PhD students. Unfortunately, after that the horrible weather hit Melbourne and the evening sessions were off, but I did attend a Social Inclusion forum on Friday at the University of Melbourne where the Telescopes in Schools program was highlighted and Prof. Rachel Webster gave an inspiring talk about what we have achieved so far and where we are heading in the future which was greatly received.

But I am getting ahead of myself! For some reason, Monday nights have not been so good weatherwise this winter but this Monday night hit true and just when we needed the clouds to clear, the stars and planets came out and we were treated to an excellent hour and a half of observing. It also meant the Year 11 students who attended had a really good go using the telescope. Last week I had taken the students through the alignment process and they did really well remembering what they had to do. They each had an opportunity to use the telescope to find an object in the night sky and we had a look at quite a few objects in many parts of the sky, all the while discussing fields of view and which objectives to use. Next time I have a list of some more difficult objects to find, more clusters and a galaxy or two. We shall see how they fair with the bigger challenge! Well done guys.

I arrived in Shepparton around lunchtime and after meeting some of the staff, Rob and I started setting up the new multipurpose building that was going to be used for it’s first function that night. Thanks to the Year 8 boys who helped us move furniture, they did a great job! Then a large group of Year 10 and 11 Science students came over to the new building for the first time to talk with me about studying Science at University. After a lively and entertaining discussion, we then took the telescope outside to align the finderscope. These science students got to have a close up look at how the telescope works in the day time anyway. I look forward to seeing them again at an observation night!

It was then time to do some Professional Development with the Science Staff where we had a look at some Astronomy software and then a play with the telescope. Not long after, the Grade 6’s from the local primary schools came to McGuire with parents and siblings in tow. After a short video on the size of stars, Bigger than Big, half the group came outside to look at some objects through the telescope. Without a doubt, Saturn was the hit of the night.


Saturn taken by Jenni Sorraghan with her smart phone

Everyone was blown away by the clarity, the detail and the beauty of Saturn. The were excited about Mars and found C80 (Omega Centauri Globular Cluster) mind-blowing. This object is 17 kly away! We also pondered over the size of Saturn given that it looks bigger than Mars, but is so much further away. I must also say that the GoSkyWatch App on the iPad was a bit of a hit as well. Just as well everyone was so impressed with all these objects as we ran out of time to look at anything else! I also know we inspired many to go home and get out their own telescopes to have a look at the night sky more often.

McGuire grade6s

A chance to look through the telescope.

Meanwhile, the other half of the group were in the warmth learning about the stars with a couple of activities. The first was looking at magnitude and temperature of stars and cataloging them using M&Ms. I always say, if an activity involves chocolate, it has to be good! By the time I made it back inside, there wasn’t an M&M to be seen! The other activity was the ScienceWorks 3D Constellation Model and WOW they were amazing!

McGuire activities

Hard at work on their constellations.

All the students (and parents) did such a great job. Hopefully they all went up onto the ceiling, perhaps over their bed so they can see the stars as they go to sleep.

Maya and Constellation

Here is Maya with her finished constellation. Any guesses as to which constellation?

In all we had a stunningly clear night, about forty students, parents, siblings, teachers and the principal of McGuire, Wayne Hill, attend the evening. The questions, the comments, the enthusiasm of the night were all amazing and there was certainly a great buzz which lasted days later. We even got the chance for the science staff at McGuire to practice their astronomy skills. A long day, but you have to agree, we achieved a lot and everyone enjoyed themselves!

Pascoe Vale Girls College also had an observing night. From Louise Ankers;

Tuesday night was mixed. We had irregular cloud cover for a majority of the night. In typical fashion it cleared perfectly just after the girls went home with their parents. Vikram and Jennifer did a sterling job and gave the presentation on the solar system. You should have seen how engaged the little brothers and sisters were – very cute. The girls still got to see Saturn and Mars, but we had trouble getting a lock on anything else due to the clouds… Anne “drove” the telescope and did a fantastic job, you are teaching us well!
Sounds like they also had a good night despite the clouds. I know Vikram and Jenny, our Astro students had a ball!
Friday was the University of Melbourne Social Inclusion Forum run by the Participation and Engagement Office of the Provost. Our esteemed Prof Rachel Webster, Head of the University of Melbourne Astrophysics Group, gave a brief overview of the program to the participants and managed to put stars in their eyes, just as we are doing for all those students out there!
It is National Science Week in Australia next week and we will potentially have an observing night every night next week. So lots more to fill you in on! Just now crossing everything so the weather behaves…

…some more from last week.

Last week ended as only it could in Melbourne. A beautiful clear night on Wednesday followed by an extremely overcast night on Thursday.

Wednesday saw Telescopes in Schools at a new school, Footscray City College in Melbourne’s North. This was our first night at Footscray City and only the teachers were there for the training session on how to use the telescope. Our VCA photography student, Xanthe, also came along to learn how to use the telescope and take some images.

Footscray Staff1

It’s over there!

As the telescope had only just been unpacked, the finderscope was unaligned, the focus was way out and the GPS had to set itself. There was a lot to learn, but lead by Adam, the eight eager teachers had no qualms in getting their hands dirty and exploring how this telescope works. After going through the alignment of the telescope and the finderscope we went straight to Saturn where we explored each of the objective lenses and the focal reducer. The staff got a great feel of just how up close we can get to the planets in our Solar System.

Footscray Staff2

Still up there…

While the weather was perfect, the moon was almost full and pretty much drowned out the entire Scorpius constellation. But don’t think that deterred us in any way. After spending at least half an hour on the moon (the telescope tracking beautifully) exploring again various lenses and the lunar filter, we looked at some deep sky objects.


That would be Tycho!

We had an excellent alignment, so finding these objects wasn’t too difficult, but if you have never seen them before, it can be hard knowing what you are looking at. But that didn’t hold the staff at Footscray City back and before we knew it that had the C80 Globular Cluster and the C94 Jewel Box Open Cluster centred in the field of view and in focus. At this point I was feeling quite obsolete as I have only touched the telescope a handful of times for the entire night. Keen to see yet more, but the cold winning out, we quickly went to Alpha Centauri to resolve the Binary Star System. A quick pack up and back in the welcome warmth. A great night was had by all, the staff picked up the nuances of the telescope brilliantly and we look forward to meeting the students from the Science Club. Thank you to Xanthe Waite for taking these images.

Thursday, we were back at Suzanne Cory and it is always a pleasure to talk to these students. At sunset, we were watching those clouds with bated breath as they started to break up just a little around the exact spot Saturn was, but at this time, there was still way too much light still coming from the setting sun and half an hour later, the cloud had completely covered the sky! Not to be outdone though, especially with a huge turnout of Year 10 students, we took the students through the alignment process, gave them a look down the end of the telescope and then we focussed on some street lights on the other side of a rather large paddock. We then headed inside for an activity, a talk and some short movies on the Solar System and the science of Astronomy. The students also got some interesting stories and knowledge from Astrophysics PhD student, Vikram, which I think they all enjoyed.

A reminder of the Curiosity landing on Mars this afternoon at 3:30pm and National Science Week next week.

Coming up

Just wanted to let you know of a few things coming up in the Astronomical world that you may or may not have heard about.

The big news at the moment is that NASA is about to land the rover Curiosity on Mars. The spacecraft left Earth in late November last year and is due to land on Monday 6th August at 3:31pm (AEST) and there will be plenty of Live Feeds so you can see the action. To see how they plan to land Curiosity, watch this very cool video, wild stuff!

JPL NASA have also released a huge amount of data and images and are asking the public to use their media skills and astronomy knowledge to put together an Infographic. It is just worth it to have a look at those already uploaded, but I am thinking, what a great school project…

Spaceship Kepler has been looking for exoplanets a while now and life in space is definitely something that appeals to everyone’s imagination. Help find exoplanets at Planet Hunters or (very cool) design your own exoplanet with Extreme Planet Makeovers. Lots of fun and science too!

A Total Solar Eclipse will occur on 14th November in the Cairns area of Northern Queensland, Australia. For those of us in Australia unable to get into Cairns for the great event, we will still be able to experience a Partial Eclipse at these times.

CLT Moon

The last couple of weeks

It has been a very busy couple of weeks and it will continue to be so as we head further into the third term and out of the winter nights. We also have a couple of new schools to add to our list and we welcome them on board. Rest assured you will be hearing more about the new schools very soon.

A couple of weeks ago we were out at Suzanne Cory HS for their first Year 10 evening. It was a quiet evening attendance wise, but it meant we got to see all the usual suspects (Saturn, Mars, C80, C94) before the cloud cover obscured our vision. We then headed inside for some warmth and a chat about the planets in our Solar System.

Last week, as is the tradition every Tuesday night now at Pascoe Vale Girls College, we had a beautiful clear night and ran the Year 8 CAL class through the telescope paces. The Moon was up as was Saturn and we took an opportunity to try and take some very amateurish photos with a smart phone.The trouble here, regardless of the quality of the camera, seems to be the orientation of the camera, making it very difficult to take an image. In saying that, we are still getting some very impressive photos of the moon and you can’t deny that is Saturn.


Stephi’s photo of Saturn through her smart phone

Thanks to Stephanie Bernard, University of Melbourne undergraduate student for taking and supplying the photos. We were also joined by 2nd Year VCA student, Xanthe, who is very keen on helping the students do some Astrophotography.


Stephi’s image of the Moon

*WARNING* You are NOT going to get a high quality photo with this method, but the students are learning a LOT about astrophotography and they get to take home a momento or two. And there is a lot of excitement about that. Imagine what it will be like when they start taking real photos!!!

Monday night I was out at Charles La Trobe College using the Quantum Victoria telescope. The night was pretty cloudy, but the moon was up and almost full, so conditions were adequate for our telescope. A quick lesson for the Year 11 Physics students on putting together a telescope and then we were outside in the courtyard. Given the cloud cover, the moon and Saturn were pretty much it for the night and the alignment was going to be pretty rough and the stars were non-existent. The students were pretty confident with their directions and before we knew it, we had run through the alignment process and were pointing in the general direction of the moon.


Looking through the telescope at Charles La Trobe

Sarah Arrowsmith (the honorary Physics student) took some shots of the guys with the telescope and then I snapped away with my Cannon IXUS 80S at the moon. A quick view of Saturn while the clouds broke up was a treat for the students and the Assistant Principal. Another great night and before we knew it, the night was over. Back next week to do it all again.

CLT Moon

Image of Moon taken by Digital camera on full manual mode

Then last night, being Tuesday again, we were back at Pascoe Vale Girls College with another Year 8 CAL class, lots of parents and siblings too. The girls learnt that it was a waxing gibbous moon last night and we could see 85% of the moon. It also meant that we couldn’t see much else as the moon was so bright! We also tried something new for the first time last night for TiS anyway. We managed to resolve the binary star system of Alpha Centauri. We used a higher power objective (9mm) and the moon filter. We found that without the filter, it was just too bright and too hard for your eyes to separate. You could definitely see that the star was an odd shape, but with the filter, both stars were clearly separated. We also took lots of pictures which I will post at a later date on the Student site.


Obviously Saturn, and there are plenty more to follow.

Don’t worry though, the week isn’t over and we still have two more nights this week and then Shepparton next week for a whole day and night of Astronomy – can’t wait!