Observing, training and Exoplanets

Last week saw a range of weather and a range of activities for the Telescopes in Schools program.

Young Astronomers as Taylor's Lakes

Young Astronomers as Taylor’s Lakes

The crowd at Taylors Lakes with a great night of viewing

The crowd at Taylors Lakes with a great night of viewing

Monday was a dreary and miserable day in Melbourne, so at 3pm we had pretty much resigned ourselves to an evening of talking about telescopes and all things astronomy – which is never a bad thing. But as I headed out to Taylors Lakes SC later that evening, the skies cleared and it became evident that this was going to be a great night of observing! While the telescope was being set up, Astro Students, Steph and Craig took the group up on the mound and taught them about the Orion Constellation. After we set up the telescope, the demands kept coming as to where we should point the telescope. In the end we saw the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, the Great Orion Nebula and Alpha Centauri. A busy night indeed.

Getting for the telescope to do it's thing at Footscray City College

Getting for the telescope to do it’s thing at Footscray City College

Tuesday was a lovely day, so it stands to reason that the evening would be overcast and we were lucky if we were to catch a glimpse of the Moon through the clouds. We soldiered on though and at Footscray City College a large group had an introduction to the program and the telescope and got to watch how the telescope moves but the clouds were very persistent and we were unable to do any observing. The group then headed inside to hear a talk from Dr Alan Duffy on Exoplanets, a similar talk he gave at the BMW Edge last Friday. With help from Astro Student, Brad, many, many questions were answered on a large range of astronomy topics.

Alan talking to an entralled crowd at Footscray City College

Alan talking to an entralled crowd at Footscray City College

I unfortunately missed Alan’s talk once again as I headed out to see how the Yr 11 and 12 girls at Pascoe Vale Girls College were doing on their first training night. Under difficult conditions, they had attempted to do an alignment with not much success, but full points for trying. They did get to look at the Moon though and the girls are really keen to really get to know how to use the telescope competently. Astro Student, Daniel, spoke about his Quasars research  and I went through the alignment process with some of the girls inside and discussed some of the finer points of looking at stars. Here is Tenisha’s report from the night;

Outside training at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Outside training at Pascoe Vale Girls College

On the 23rd of April, Pascoe Vale Girls College had our first student viewing night of the year. With hope and anticipation for a successful viewing, the students gathered into the dark yard, but sadly we were met by a very cloudy night sky. Nonetheless we took the opportunity to take a shot at controlling the telescope. Under careful surveillance and instruction from the teachers, we got a chance to set up and align the telescope. It was a little difficult to find stars to align it with, only catching a small glimpse of one and then realising it was hidden behind the clouds before we get a good chance to check it was aligned. Luckily for us, the moon was a little more visible, so we at least got the chance to have a good look at it after such a long time. Overall, the night might not have made the top 5 of our viewing nights, but it was a great learning experience with the telescope itself and how to control it.

Inside traning at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Inside traning at Pascoe Vale Girls College

Tenisha Fernando – Pascoe Vale Girls College, Year 12 Physics Student

Mt Macedon Primary School at Gisborne Secondary College

Last week I had the double pleasure of doing some astronomy with the Grade 5/6 classes of Mt Macedon Primary School on the cloudy Tuesday and the perfectly clear Friday nights. Four of these wonderfully knowledgable and enthusiastic students wrote an excellent report each on their experiences I just couldn’t wait to share with you;

Students from Mt Macedon PS in front of the telescope after viewing Saturn for the first time.

Students from Mt Macedon PS in front of the telescope after viewing Saturn for the first time.

On Friday the 19th of April the Grade 5/6 class from Mount Macedon Primary School got the opportunity to go to Gisborne Secondary College to look through a telescope that they have been given for three years from Melbourne University.  I was lucky enough to be in that group.  It was a great experience and I didn’t think that I would ever see the moon, Jupiter or Saturn close up.  I learnt so much and had lots of fun.

By Scout


On Friday the 19th I went to Gisborne Secondary College to look through a telescope from Melbourne University.  When we got there we first looked at the moon then it zoomed in and we could see all the craters.  If it was yellow it would have looked exactly like cheese! After that we went inside and made mini versions of the solar system and then we did a quiz and got slap bands.  After the inside stuff we went outside to look at Saturn.  It was absolutely amazing! It was like a sticker.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Then we had to go.  I couldn’t get the vision of Saturn out of my head; I kept seeing it in the sky.

By Luci

Students from Mt Macedon PS with their Pocket Solar System

Students from Mt Macedon PS with their Pocket Solar System

When we got there we realised it was too cloudy to use the telescope so we went inside and Jacinta from Melbourne University came and told us about sizing and where about the planets are.  It was very interesting and made us feel very small compared to the Solar System.  It was very interesting.  Jacinta was very nice and informative and a very fun presenter and I wish I could do it again.  Now I have an even bigger interest in space and we were so lucky to be chosen to go.  It’s an experience worth having.

By Lilu

On Tuesday the 16th and Friday the 19th of April, Grade 5/6 of Mount Macedon Primary School went to Gisborne Secondary College to look through a telescope that Gisborne Secondary is borrowing for three years.

It was at 6 until 7.30pm and unfortunately it was not clear enough to use the telescope on Tuesday, but that group came back on Friday.  We looked at the moon first.  It was absolutely fascinating! You could very clearly see the craters! We learnt that each crater is about a hundred kilometres long! We also looked at Jupiter, which was just a blob.

We went inside and use Stellarium.  Which is a lot like Google earth.  We found the Southern Cross, and Rigel.  We also got warm milo! It warmed us up a lot!

After that we went outside and looked at Saturn.  It was unreal! It looked so awesome! It was very clear and you could see the rings perfectly! It was amazing!!!

I really enjoyed looking through the telescope! It was a fantastic experience that could be a once in a life time thing!

By Bella

Thank you to Scout, Lucy, Lilu and Bella and to teacher Laura for organising these reports.

Also thanks to Craig and Daniel, PhD students from the Astrophysics Group for coming out and talking to the students, helping with the telescope and not hogging the viewing time too much…

Hogging, I mean checking! the telescope.

Hogging, I mean checking! the telescope.

The Pocket Solar System is a great activity for looking at the distance scale of the Solar System – no polystyrene required. This one has been adapted from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific activity

Images from Gisborne

One of the teachers from Gisborne Secondary College, Dale Barry, connected the Thorlabs camera to his own 200mm reflector telescope last week and took some images of the Moon that I had to share with you.

Image of Moon taken by Dale Barry 17th April 2013

Image of Moon taken by Dale Barry 17th April 2013

17/04/13 8:30pm

5 day old moon

Mare Serenitatis

Larger crater is Aristoteles

Slightly smaller crater is Eudoxus

Image of Moon taken by Dale Barry on 20th April 2013

Image of Moon taken by Dale Barry on 20th April 2013

20/04/13 11:00pm

10 day old moon

Mare Imbrium

Large crater top left is Plato

Large crater lower right is Copernicus

Dale also sent me a link to this demonstration of pendulum waves. Great for pendulums, waves, SHM, period and more. It is also VERY cool to look at and shows the beauty of Physics very nicely I think.

Some other news items;

If you missed the Are We Alone discussion at the BMW Edge last Friday, see the story as told by the tweets put together on Storify by Dr Katie Mack

It is currently Global Astronomy Month (GAM) and you can check out the worldwide events here.

Yet another reason to do some Citizen Science on the Zooniverse!

Get up close and personal with the Moon using this interactive image where you can zoom in and out to see the craters in all their glory.

Quick Update

Just a very quick post to update you on some exciting Astro things happening at the moment.

First up, the Lyrid meteor shower starts tonight and continues until the 22nd April. This is a yearly event and can be best seen around midnight and somewhere dark (such as in the countryside) near the Lyra constellation. You can expect only around 10 meteors per hour, but in previous years there have been around 100 per hour sighted. There will be other, larger showers in the coming months. More information can be found at Meteor Showers Online.

Drs Alan Duffy and Katie Mack, members of the Astrophysics group at Melbourne University and CAASTRO as well as two of our wonderful volunteers for the TiS program, are part of a discussion panel on Are we Alone? The Hunt for ET as part of Science at the Edge at Federation Square on Friday 19th April. Tickets are still available to what should be an entertaining and informative night. Let me know if you make it.

The CAASTRO Annual Report for 2012 came out last month with a great article on the TiS program and pictures of Pascoe Vale Girls College during the Partial Solar Eclipse in Melbourne. Thanks again to CAASTRO for supporting our program.

Don’t forget that now is your last chance to see Jupiter as it sets just after sunset, but don’t worry if you miss it as Saturn is rising just after sunset. Last chance to see Orion as well. Found this great website to create your own calendar with Sun and Moon rise and set times. So helpful!

Lastly, a great virtual interactive video of the Aurora Borealis in Norway taken by Goran Strand. Just makes you want to put on the snow clothes and head North.

Student Night at Gisborne

Just before the end of Term 1 we had our first student night at Gisborne Secondary College. The Year 7 and 8’s were invited along and were joined by parents and siblings. Unfortunately the skies were not cooperating that night and a thick cloud cover mean’t we didn’t see anything in the night sky.

So what to do on a cloudy night when you are there to look at stars and use the telescope? Set the telescope up inside and start teaching these students how to use the telescope. So we put the telescope together, we set it up for alignment, found some stars to align with and went through the alignment process, moving the telescope and focussing. All the students then had a go at finding a different object, a planet, the moon, a binary star, a nebula, a star cluster or two. Unfortunately that night everything looked like a close up view of the ceiling…which it was 😦 But we had a great time pretending we were looking at the sky! There were a couple of Year 6 siblings very keen to come to Gisborne Secondary College next year and join the Astronomy club.

Learning to use the telescope for next year!

Learning to use the telescope for next year!

One such person, after looking through the telescope said, “I really want one of these!” We discussed putting a telescope on the next Birthday wish list.

We also had pockets of students looking at Stellarium and talking to Jenny who is doing her PhD in Astrophysics about her work. We all had such a great evening and are looking forward to next term when hopefully there will be lots more opportunities to see some stars.

Using Stellarium to figure out what we should have been seeing.

Using Stellarium to figure out what we should have been seeing.

As luck would have it, just as we left the school, the clouds started to break up and the moon peaked through. By the time I got home, the sky was almost clear… better luck this week.