Award Winning End to the Year

Well it is pretty much the end of the year and thankfully not the end of the world, so I am here writing what is most likely the last post for the year. But don’t hold it against the Mayans, they did afterall give us the most accurate calendar of early civilisation and chocolate!

Lots to tell you about after a huge first year for Telescopes in Schools and then a couple of cool Astro things to admire an smile at over the holidays.

  • First up, our biggest news. Shane and I were awarded with a 2012 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Outstanding Contribution. Specifically, this is why we were given the award;

‘Creating Connections: contribution to engagement’ and ‘Service to the community’ – Shane Huntington and Jacinta den Besten, pioneers of the the ‘Telescopes in Schools’ project, bringing planetary science to school students in Melbourne’s north and west. With the support of academics from the School of Physics and from the Graduate School of Education, the project has worked with teachers, students and parents in nine schools, promoting education in astrophysics and science.

You can read all about the award and the other wonderful recipients on the MUSSE website.

  • The morning of the award ceremony I had a group of 30 Yr 7-9 SEAL students from McGuire College Shepparton undertake a tour of the University. There is only so much you can see in an hour, but we saw quite a lot!

We went to the MU Sport for a quick tour of the Beaurepaire Centre – it was a hot day and the pool looked very inviting. Then it was over to the School of Physics for a peek at the Pelletron which is a particle accelerator that operates on the same principle as the van der Graff machine only a lot bigger. Then to the School of Chemistry where we saw a lecture theatre, a demonstration on reactions and fuels and then a student lab. Last stop for my part of the tour anyway, was the Melbourne Brain Centre which was a sensational facility for brain research and we got to talk to one of the researchers and see a research lab. The students then went on to Lygon St and a movie at IMAX.

Hopefully I will be able to show you a few pictures early next year and tell you what the students had to say, but in the meantime, they certainly sounded like they had a great time from these comments by teacher, Ms Crew;

I attended Melbourne Uni myself and had never had the opportunity to see many of the things we were able to see last Wednesday. It was really fascinating and we all really enjoyed it. Many of these students would never have even considered the prospect of attending a university and being able to see such amazing things.

How do you give an audience a taste of Astronomy in 5mins? A big task, so I just through everything at them. Nice thing about Astronomy though is you always get a wow in there somewhere – but the story about Tycho Brahe and turning the Sun off in Stellarium were definitely a couple of highlights.

I was also very interested in hearing the other speakers talk about the Bionic Eye, servicing electric cars and some of the art exhibitions we have around the University. There are going to be some very interesting programs for the students to participate in over the summer.

  • I have also been doing a bit of number crunching and Dr Maurizio Toscano has been conducting interviews with some of our schools.

In brief,

  1. We now have 9 schools participating in the program as host schools with telescopes.
  2. We held 50 observing sessions this year – 10 of these were daytime , solar observations
  3. We held 2 formal Professional Development sessions this year, one at Quantum Victoria and the other at the Melbourne Planetarium
  4. We held 8 teacher training sessions at the schools
  5. During the sessions for the year we had 262 teachers, 910 students, 104 parents, around 50 extras (siblings, friends and interested parties) and 77 TiS staff and volunteers. Obviously many of these were returning but it certainly gives you a very good indication of how many people we had at the sessions this year.
  6. Our standout events for 2012 were the Transit of Venus and the Total Solar Eclipse (Partial for us) with a great presence in both the TV and print media

Next year we plan to,

  1. Expand to more schools
  2. Provide more Professional Development for our TiS teachers
  3. Do lots of Astrophotography and solar observing
  4. Start working on some longer term projects with the students
  5. Conduct a webinar series that remote schools will be able to access
  6. and lots, lots more if we can find the time!

So some fun stuff to leave with you for the break.

  • Hubble has given us a Christmas ornament this year and everyone can enjoy it. Not sure how to hang it on the Christmas tree though.
  • The largest image ever released was taken by the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak, Arizona of a supernova remnant in the Cygnus constellation. The full image is almost 1.7 GB!
  • And if you are also sick of the kids singing an endless loop of Gangnam Style by PSY, NASA now have their version which is clever, factual and very funny. Definitely a good one to share around!

I wish everyone a safe and happy break and I look forward to sharing all my stories of 2013 with you next year.



News, news and more news

There is a lot of cool Astronomy stuff going on at the moment and definitely time I filled you in on it all (well some of it anyway!)

  • Missed the eclipse? Don’t worry, Australia will experience a partial eclipse next year.

May 10 from 8am to 10am in Melbourne with 25% coverage. Put it in your diary and get planning. Also, please let me know what your plans are! Full details on a DIY pinhole camera from Paul Floyd. Thanks Paul.

  • The summer sky is here and Jupiter will be the brightest object in the night sky at the moment, other than the moon.

Look to the East just after sunset and Jupiter will be shining brightly. (That is if these Melbourne clouds go away!) In fact Jupiter is in opposition at the moment, which means it is at it’s closest to Earth.

  • We have been talking about the Sun a lot this year and now Australia has just unveiled their new radio telescope.

The MWA telescope in Western Australia will be able to warn us of Solar storms that could potentially damage and disrupt electrical devices and power supplies on Earth. Many of the Astrophysics Group at The University of Melbourne have been involved in this project.

  • There are a couple of very cool images around at the moment;

Saturn’s hexagonal storm at it’s North Pole taken by Cassini

The Total Eclipse from 37 km above the Earth

The second hot day in a row, the last talk of the conference and the one lecture theatre without any aircon, I was not expecting too many participants, but very pleasantly surprised with a fantastic turn up. There were also a few who stuck around afterwards to discuss Astronomy outreach further with a couple of potential exciting collaborations to come in the future!

I also had the chance to put my teacher hat on and attend a couple of workshops looking at using the iPad with LabQuest 2 and scaffolding science experiment reports with Roland Gesthuizen. Both were extremely informative and entertaining sessions, so thank you to those presenters.

Thanks also to those who braved the last session and the heat to listen to me talk about how great doing astronomy is. Big thanks to David for presenting with me and sharing his perspective on what the Astronomy program has done to motivate and interest his students in Science.

Solar Observing at Taylors Lakes

So you would think that after all that observing in Shepparton and then for the Eclipse, I would have headed straight home to catch up on some sleep. Absolutely not! I left Footscray City College under the excellent directions passed on by Brad and headed out to Taylors Lakes Secondary College to do some Solar observing with the Year 7 Science students. The day continued to be clear and the only thing we really had to worry about was where to set up the telescope so WE could get some shelter from the Sun. The telescope outside the Science block created much interest as students went to and from classes and loitered around at recess.

Telescope set up in Science Block

Telescope set up in Science Block

Once the telescope had been set up and aligned with the Sun, many of the nearby Science classes came to have a look. We used the 40mm eyepiece with the Solar filter and were able to see the entire Sun including a large number of Sunspots.

Year 7 girls taking photos of the Sun

Year 7 girls taking photos of the Sun

The first Year 7 class came along and everyone got the chance to have a look at the Sun and ponder the fact that these Sunspots can be larger than the Earth itself. Once everyone had a look, we attached a Canon 400D DSLR camera to the telescope and some of the students stayed behind to take ‘some’ images of the Sun.

As the camera does not have live view, we had to do a bit of a trial and error to get the focus and the position just right. To focus we had to take an image, turn the focus one way, take another image, then compare the images and adjust accordingly. To move the image of the Sun the students quickly realised that the direction on the telescope handset did not correlate with the direction of the image and in true ‘digital age’ style, they adapted beautifully and were taking sensational images in no time!

Upper half image of the Sun on 14/11/2012

Upper half image of the Sun on 14/11/2012

Lower half of the Sun on 14/11/2012

Lower half of the Sun on 14/11/2012

Lunchtime came and a couple of students came back for another look. By now I had taken the camera off, but thought it was a good time to do some observing and recording ‘Galileo Style’. So I gave these students the log book with a large circle on it and asked them to draw in the sunspots. You have to admit, they did a sensational job and I love the detail they used, the relative sizes of the spots and the way they were arranged. Great job girls!

Year 9 girls with their drawing of the sunspots on the sun

Year 9 girls with their drawing of the sunspots on the sun

Galileo style record of the sunspots

Galileo style record of the sunspots

After lunch, another Year 7 Science Class and lots more Solar observing.

In all the students ended up taking over 60 photos of the Sun as each of them had a try at moving the telescope to get the optimum image. They have then used these images and done some research on the Sun and presented their findings in some wonderful presentations. Below are a few of the finished assignments. Thank you for sharing them with us.

The Sun – Erin and Madeleine 

Helen’s Assignment

Amanda and Bianca’s Assignment

Jack and Corey’s Assignment

But some more to think about though;

How many sunspots did you see?

Can you take a few of the images of the Sun and stitch them together to get a whole image?

What did you notice about the sunspots? Were there any patterns?

Do you think the sunspots change or move? How could we use the telescope to find out?

What makes the sunspots?

This link to NASA may help you out with some of my questions. And this one from the Solar Week site.

I look forward to perhaps answering these questions with you and some of the other schools next year!