Just a quick post to tell you about our fabulous time at the 3RRR 102.7FM radio station on Sunday 25th November, where we got to tell everyone about the great time we are having with the Telescopes in Schools Program on the Einstein A Go-Go show with Dr Shane.

Joining us on the show were Year 9 student Caroline and her mum, Natalie, from Suzanne Cory High School and Year 11 Physics students, Monica and Tenisha, with Physics teacher, Louise Ankers, from Pascoe Vale Girls College.

We were all a bit nervous waiting out in the Green Room as we watched Dr Shane get ready for his show. We got to have a quick look in the studio before the program started and a rundown on how to talk into the mic. Then back outside to the green room where the nerves really started to ramp up. A very quick changeover from one segment to the next and we found ourselves in front of big microphones and headsets on.

Shane and Caroline

Dr Shane and Caroline chatting away in the studio.

I have to say that the nerves quickly dissipated as we got into the groove and before we knew it, our 10 min segment had run overtime and we were herded back out to the green room! They say time flies when you’re having fun, but boy! it goes really fast when you are talking on the radio.

The girls did such a great job speaking about their experiences with TiS and were pretty excited about having been on the radio. I can’t wait to hear about their superstar status back at school.


From left; Caroline, Tenisha and Monica in the Green Room.

Of course if you were unable to be in Melbourne on Sunday because you live elsewhere or were stranded in the dessert with no radio, no internet connection and no satellite dish. Don’t worry, you can still listen to the show now an the podcast will be available soon.

From left; Me, Dr Shane, Caroline, Tenisha, Monica and Louise just outside the studio.

Thank you to everyone who came on Sunday and especially the parents who brought the girls into the station, and thanks to Dr Shane and 3RRR for having us on the show!

Also, if you haven’t had a chance to read the local Macedon Ranges newspapers, here are a couple of links to read up on what Gisborne Secondary College have been up to.

The Free Press, Friday November 23, 2012

Macedon Ranges Weekly, Nov 27, 2012 

Tracy Classic Eclipse

But wait, there’s more…

Before I unveil even more eclipse photos (this time of the total eclipse!) I need to remind you of a very important event happening on Sunday (25th November) at 11am on 3RRR 102.7FM. Telescopes in Schools will be featured on the weekly science show, Einstein A Go Go. Tune in and you can hear students from Pascoe Vale Girls College and Suzanne Cory High School talk about their experiences with the program alongside one of the teachers and a parent. Each week on the show Dr Shane and Dr Krystal have special guests come in to discuss some particular area of Science, they also wrap up the week in science and play some great music too. Dr Shane initiated the Telescopes in Schools program and has worked with a lot of the schools throughout the year. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the show yet, there is always the podcast of old episodes.

Now back to the eclipse. The Eclipse gallery is now up with heaps more pictures.

Remember when I said one of our Astrophysics students and TiS volunteers, Jenny went up north to view the Total Solar Eclipse? Well it turns out another of our TiS friends was also up north in Port Douglas to view the Total Eclipse as well! Tracy traveled up to northern Queensland just before heading home to LA for Christmas and managed to capture some stunning photos of the eclipse and a sensational sunrise. And she has been super generous in sharing her pictures with us. Thanks Tracy.

Here is what Tracy had to say;

I took the pictures at Four Mile Beach so I got some pictures of the sunrise too! I used solar eclipse glasses as the filter for the most part (hence the red tinge!). But it was an amazing experience, despite all the cloud cover. We got totality right when it counted most! I had heard that some people went out to sea on a cruise to watch the eclipse but they didn’t get to see totality because it was too cloudy in their area. So I think I got really lucky there. =)

They are certainly stunning pictures Tracy and an experience you will remember for ever. We are all very jealous and inspired.

Tracy Sunrise

Now that is what I call a Sunrise! Wow!

Tracy near totality

The Sun almost completely blocked out by the Moon and those clouds make it even spookier!

Tracy Total Eclipse

Tracy’s photo at the exact moment the Moon totally blocked out the Sun and you can now see the Sun’s corona.

Tracy Classic Eclipse

That classic Eclipse shot just as the Moon starts to leave the Sun.

Alex’s Eclipse

I haven’t nearly finished with the Eclipse yet, just in case you got to the end of my last post with the undeniable desire to read more! Today, I present to you our first student post from Alex Claney of McGuire College, Shepparton, whom I have mentioned a couple of times in the last few days. I have invited Alex to tell us about the photos he took on the day of the Eclipse. You can also see a photo of him using the telescope in the Shepparton News. Thanks Alex for sharing your images and growing expertise. We look forward to seeing more of your photos in the future.

The photo I took of the partial solar eclipse on the 14th November this year was a great experience for me because it was only the second time I used the Meade LX200-ACF-12″ telescope to take photos with the school’s Nikon D3000 camera. The first time I used it was only the night before when there was a small group of teachers, students and parents who came to the school to look at the night sky using the new telescope and taking photos of the night sky.

Alex Eclipse A

Eclipse taken with the Nikon D3000 connected to 12″ Meade LX200 telescope.

We were able to take photos because we had a special attachment that made the camera’s lens turn into the entire telescope.  It is because of this that when I took the photo it had no aperture.  Since we had used the camera the night before I had to change the ISO (the sensitivity to light) from 1600 to only 800, this way the photo wouldn’t be too bright.  I also made sure the shutter speed wasn’t too slow so I put it on 1/200th of a second.  I was able to make the shutter go at this speed and not any faster because we had a solar filter on the telescope so it was safe for human eyes to look at the sun without any consequences.

When I took the photo it wasn’t the best so I altered it in Photoshop. In Photoshop the first thing I did was to change the dark parts of the photo and make it even darker. I did this by using the burn tool and burning it so it will make the grey black, after that I changed the levels of the photo just to make the sun clearer.

Alex Eclipse B

A later image of the Eclipse.

Taking this photo was a great experience for me because I have done photography at McGuire College for 3 years and the opportunity to take a photo of the solar eclipse at school using a telescope was a great opportunity for me and I will remember it for the rest of my life.  I’m inspired to try some other astrophotography and would love to explore the use of shadow on the moon as an interest.

By Alex Claney  

Alex - Shepparton

The 2012 Eclipse

Last Wednesday, Australia experienced a Total Solar Eclipse. If you were lucky enough to be in Cairns, you would have experienced totality. One of our Astro PhD students and TiS volunteers, Jenny, was lucky enough to be there in person and got some amazing photos.

For the rest of us in Melbourne we experienced about 50% Partial Eclipse and in TiS style, we made a day of it!

Alex - Shepparton

Photo taken by Year 11 Student Alex Claney from McGuire College with Nikon DSLR attached to the 12″ Meade telescope.

You have already heard about McGuire College expecting the local newspaper and they ended up getting the full media treatment. You can see the article and the YouTube video. The cameraman even took over the telescope to connect up their own camera and get a picture of the Moon passing over the Sun. Our budding astrophotographer, Alex Claney, fronted up again the next morning and took some spectacular images of the Eclipse with the school’s Nikon D3000 attached to the telescope. Even the Astrophysicists at The University of Melbourne’s School of Physics agreed these were quality images! Stay tuned for his own post on just how he got this image.

Brad and I were out at Footscray City College bright and early with an array of cameras and the telescope helping Adam and student teacher James set up for the morning’s viewing.

Instant Digital

The Eclipse taken with my Canon Ixus through the 40mm eyepiece on the telescope.

Footscray City Eclipse

Students from Footscray City watching the eclipse with the telescope in the background.

Well before 7am, the students were arriving for their first glimpse of the Sun and were keen to help out in any way they could. Having set up in the courtyard in front of the school, ensured pretty much everyone got the chance to have a quick look before they headed into school.

Brad spent most of the time taking stills of the sun with a video camera and a Baader filter with a little help from a student, Tahl Persall. They got a great time lapse view of the event, which we will be posting in the near future. But here is one for now.

Video Footscray Early

Still taken with video camera through the filter of the Sun taken by Astro student Brad Greig

I also took some photos of the Sun in the sky to see what effect the partial eclipse had on the brightness of the day. Given it happened over two hours, there was no noticeable difference to the bystander. But judge for yourself as to what the camera saw. The first was taken at 7:25am, just after the eclipse started in Melbourne. The second one was taken at 7:57am around the maximum coverage time. Later in the day, but clearly(?) darker. I did have the camera set to manual, so the exposure times were exactly the same.

view comparison

Comparison of the sky during the eclipse. The left hand image was taken at 7:25am and the right-hand image was taken at 7:57am.

These comments from Dev, a student at Footscray City College:

“Yesterday we got to school early so we could see the solar eclipse. We got to school about 6.30am and Adam was already setting up the telescope with the lady from the University (Jacinta). I had been watching the eclipse on the tv from Queensland and was surprised that it hadn’t started yet but they told me it would start soon.

We wore special glasses to protect our eyes and we could also look through the telescope. We could see the sunspots on the Sun and Brad told us that some of them were bigger than the whole Earth. They actually looked like specks of dust. It was amazing once the moon started to block out the Sun although I thought it would get darker but it didn’t change at all.” Devpriya Peiris THAHANAPPU HETTIARACHIGE

PVGC Phone

This image was taken by Year 11 Student Monica Delos Santos from Pascoe Vale Girls College with her phone.

Dr Duffy (Alan) went to Pascoe Vale Girls College for the morning where he gave a brief talk on the eclipse and helped and chatted with over 100 girls and 30 staff members as they looked at the Eclipse.

PVGC group

The girls from Pascoe Vale Girls College watching the Eclipse with Dr Duffy in the background.

There were even a few Year 12 Physics girls who took some time out from their exam prep to view the eclipse right before they were due to sit the actual Physics exam. Amazing effort girls and we hope the eclipse inspired you to greatness during the exam.

Monica, who took the photo with her phone, had this to say;

“It was a truly worthwhile experience that we enjoyed. We all benefited from the experience as we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the eclipse like we did anywhere else. It was interesting for everyone – even for those who don’t study Physics or Science. Having the telescope at our school allows us to widen our range of opportunities in the astronomy field. We all had great fun watching the eclipse and we enjoy every viewing night!” Monica Delos Santos Year 11

Gisborne projector

Image of the Sun at Gisborne using the projection method

Gisborne Secondary College also had a great viewing session, but unfortunately as most of the students arrived via bus, most of the students didn’t get to see the eclipse until almost the end. Next time we will see if we can put the eclipse on a bit later… or talk to the bus company?

Gisborne group

The staff and students at Gisborne SC viewing the Eclipse

Regardless, there were still quite a few astro enthusiasts early and eager who got to experience the whole event, including these year 8 students;

“We arrived early at our school to witness a partial solar eclipse. The teachers had set up a telescope that let us view the sun, however due to problems with the filter, we ended up using a projection method. We used glasses made of a polymer to view the eclipse safely. During the eclipse the sun was regularly described as ‘Pac man’ by students. For us, avid astronomers, this was a very exciting event, and we hope to witness a total solar eclipse in our lifetime.” Mitchell and Brandon Yr 8

Pinhole Eclipse

Taken by Bruce Drummond of the Sun’s image projected by a Pinhole camera.

Suzanne Cory High School got out their solar glasses to observe the eclipse, if you were early enough as it clouded over Werribee for the later part. Teacher, Bruce Drummond, did manage to get his pinhole camera out though to project this fantastic image.

To sum up the day, we had hundreds of students, well over 50 teachers, parents and siblings and even passers by have a look at the eclipse. Many, many fantastic photos taken on phones, video cameras, DSLRs, instant digital cameras. So many, I can’t possibly show them all to you, so head to the Eclipse Gallery to see even more! We had all sorts of viewing methods; Using the 12″ telescope with special Solar filter, projection from the telescope, zoomed in video stills through a filter, Solar glasses and a pinhole camera. I have a feeling, we pretty much covered the entire gambit of Solar observing in just 2 small hours. The day was certainly full of atmosphere, anticipation and a huge WOW factor. Now we just have to wait until 2028 before the next Total Eclipse will occur in Australia. I have a feeling that just a few more Umbraphiles were created last week, already saving their pocket money so they can travel to and experience totality for themselves.

McGuire College, Shepparton

Last week was a huge week for me and it is going to take a few posts to fill you in on it all!

Spoiler alert! We did cover the partial eclipse in Melbourne, but a LOT more about that in the next post.

Sun halo

I caught this halo around the Sun made by that little bright dot in the filter!

Today I want to talk to you about my day out in Shepparton at McGuire College. I was up there the day before the eclipse. We had great skies, the Sun was really warm and the whispy clouds were producing some great effects. The little bright spot in the circle is the Sun through the filter and that circular line in the clouds – a Sunbow! Very nice.

Solar Observing

Students taking some video of the Sun

The Year 10 Chemistry class came over to do some solar viewing in the afternoon and it wasn’t long before a few of the students took over the telescope, the video camera and my computer to get a closeup look at some Sunspots. It freed me up to grab the camera and take this shot!

Tonight’s session was for the senior students, including Yr 11 student Dylan who convinced Rob to get onto the program in the first place. We were also going to concentrate on photography with the Photography teacher, Kylie Doddrell, and Yr 11 photography student, Alex, keen to take some pictures. I sent Kylie home with Jerry Lodriguss’ webpage to do some reading on Astrophotography. It was bound to keep her busy. Rob and his family were super gracious and took me into their home and fed me and entertained me between school finishing and the night-time observing session.


Rob, Alex and Kylie working up their astrophotography skills

After 20 month old Lachie regaled me with his many talents and dance moves, we headed back to school to set up for the evening. Kylie fronted up just before 8pm with a few more cameras and a newfound hobby. A couple of hours on the web and she was now ‘hooked’. Astrophotography here we come!

47 Tucanae

47 Tucanae Globular Cluster courtesy of Alex Claney, Year 11 student of McGuire College

We had a great mix of students, teachers, parents and even a past student came along for the night. As we waited patiently for the stars to come out, we spent a bit of time on the iPad planning what we might look at tonight and which stars to align with. The students were really enthusiastic, knowledgeable and more than keen to have a go at the telescope. We looked at Mars, Uranus and Neptune, then 47 Tucanae Globular Cluster. It was then we connected the DSLR and the photographers took over. They had a ball working through all the settings on the camera to get the right shot. While out of focus, this is undoubtably an image of the globular cluster and a great first effort from Year 11 Photography student, Alex Claney. Well done and we look forward to seeing heaps more of your work! (you don’t need to wait too long though, there will be more in the next post…)

While the photographers were hard at work, the rest of us escaped inside to the warmth where we had a look at some very cool videos and talked all things space. The videos are below if you are interested in having a look for yourselves.

Star Size Comparison

The Power of the Sun

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Size of the Universe

A sensational night and they were all ready to go for the eclipse the next morning, which was good, as they were expecting the local newspaper to drop by at 8am – no pressure…

A couple of news items and reminders:

STAVCON is on next week – still time to register, plenty of Astronomy on the program as well, come and say Hi.

Introduction to Astronomy – Coursera Online starts next week on the 27th Nov. Let me know if you are interested.

A note about the discovery Higgs Boson I referred to in my last post about Brian Cox. Dr Shane has a great interview on the  University of Melbourne podcast, Upclose that talks about this being a Higgs-like particle. What’s the difference? Does it matter? Listening to the podcast is a must.

Telescopes in Schools is going to be featured on 3RRR Einstein A Go Go show this Sunday at 11am! 102.7 FM. Listen in if you can to fellow teachers, students and parents as they discuss the past year and the program. Don’t worry, if you can’t get to the radio, I will post the podcast next week. If you didn’t already know, our own Dr Shane hosts this science program every Sunday between 11am-12noon.

If you ever thought you weren’t or couldn’t do real science on our telescopes, this should convince you otherwise! An explosion was spotted on Jupiter by Amateur Astronomers using a 12″ LX200 Meade telescope! Read more here.

Lastly, Google has just released a new site, basically Google Universe! Navigate your way around 100,000 stars and then some. Fantastic resource for everyone!

Lots more very soon…

Brian Cox and studying Astronomy

Last Friday night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the University of Melbourne’s Public Lecture given by Professor Brian Cox. For those of you not familiar with Prof. Cox, he is a Particle Physicist working on the Large Hadron Collider and the ATLAS experiment which was responsible for detecting the Higgs Boson earlier this year. He is also author of a number of books and is about to launch his third BBC series, Wonders of Life, following on from his other successful series, Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe. But he is also quite well known for his 90’s band D:Ream and the hit song, ‘Things can only get better’. (which he did not sing!)

It was a packed theatre at the Melbourne Convention Centre and you could hear a pin drop as Brian explained the most complex of ideas such as Special Relativity, Quantum Theory and the Higgs Boson, in a very easy to understand manner. There were plenty of Ohhh’s and Uh Huh’s as people finally felt they understood these concepts. I am really looking forward to his new series about how Physics played a part in the origin of life.

A quick update on other news;

A goldilocks super-Earth has been found around a star 43 ly away!

Only a day away until the total eclipse in Cairns, Australia. Live podcasts and feeds are available if you have not got access to a filter.

It’s a busy week for me too, as long as the clouds stay away…but more on that later.

Lastly, a call out to anyone who might be interested in studying some Astronomy over the summer with me. I will be doing the online Coursera subject, Introduction to Astronomy. It starts on Nov 27 and goes for 9 weeks. There is no cost, but no official creditation. You do get a certificate on completion though. It is estimated to be about 6-8 hrs of work a week. Let me know if you are interested and we can set up an online study group.

Solar Observing

With the Solar Eclipse in Northern Australia less than a week away, it is time to talk about Solar Observing. I have been busy making more filters and investigating activities about the Sun. Here in Melbourne, we will have a partial eclipse of around 50% of the Sun being blocked by the moon. Just to get you thinking…What do you think life would be like if the Sun was only 50% of it’s brightness all the time? Let me know your thoughts.

Firstly, the warnings which should never be taken lightly. It is so tempting to look straight at the Sun, but many people do not realise, especially students, how dangerous it is and how quickly irreparable damage can be done. It is even more tempting when you are trying to align a telescope at the Sun.

  • NEVER look at the Sun without an approved filter.

Sunglasses, welding masks, and other suggested alternatives to Solar film should not be used. Even if you do have an appropriate filter, you should never prolong your viewing time.

  • ALWAYS use a solar filter on the telescope or use Eclipse glasses.

The solar filter should be fitted onto the mirror end of the telescope. If light from the Sun is allowed to enter the telescope, the mirrors and lenses are likely to heat up enough that they will shatter, let alone damaging the eye of anyone observing through the telescope.

  • ALWAYS check the filter and glasses before use with a strong torch to ensure there are no scratches or holes in the filter.

If there are scratches, dispose of the filter immediately.

  • ALWAYS remove the finderscope from the brackets attached to the telescope.

If the finderscope is left on the telescope, it is also looking at the Sun and you may inadvertantly burn a hole in your shoulder or the person standing behind you. The round brackets that hold the finderscope can also be used to align the telescope with the Sun!

There are a number of ways you can safely look at the eclipse without directly looking at the sun if you are unable to obtain a Solar filter or glasses;

Pinhole camera with viewing times on the sheet from Paul Floyd

Strainer (this effect can also be seen on the ground from the shadows from the leaves of the trees)

Telescope Projection 

The ASA Factsheet on the 2012 Solar eclipse also talks about these methods.

Aligning the telescope during the day.

It is much more difficult to align the telescope during the day as we can’t see the stars to align the telescope. Not only that, but often the Sun is not listed as an object due to safety reasons.

Here is my method for aligning the telescope and tracking the Sun;

  • Remove the finderscope, but leave the brackets, we will use these to determine the correct direction.
  • Place the solar filter on the end of the telescope.
  • Now set your telescope up into it’s usual home position – facing North and level in Australia using an AltAz mount.
  • Perform the usual alignment process – one or two star – with stars in the sky at the time – use Stellarium with the atmosphere turned off so you can see which stars are in the Northern sky at the time. I suggest Betelgeuse and Spica – but you won’t be able to centre the stars in the telescope, so just hit ENTER.
  • Now head to a star that is in the vacinity of the Sun, we used Zuben Elgenubi, or on the day of the Eclipse you can track the moon.
  • The alignment is probably out, so to ensure the best tracking, manually move the telescope around until you are in the right direction, it should be the right altitude you will just need to alter the azimuth position, you can use the shadows of the findersope brackets for this. The smaller the shadow, the better alignment. When you are pretty close, you can use the handset to do the finer adjustments.
  • The last thing to do is to focus the image.
  • For the 12″ telescope we recommend using the focal reducer and the 40mm eyepiece as the image too large otherwise.