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

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…

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