School visits

The last few weeks of this term have been extremely busy with lots of night-time observing at many of the schools in the program. This post is a snapshot of the sessions and activities of the last few weeks.

First up is Taylors Lakes Secondary College who has been holding an observing session every Monday night since the first week of term! The weather has not been that great in Melbourne so far this term, but we do find patience and determination pays off, especially for the dedicated group of students, teachers and parents who regularly attend the Monday night sessions. The group has had the chance to see Saturn and Jupiter, the Moon, binary stars, the Great Orion Nebula and star clusters.

Shane making the final adjustments at Taylors Lakes

Shane making the final adjustments at Taylors Lakes

I tweeted at the time that Year 7 student Brad captured the view through the telescope in one succinct word, but here is his short report on what he saw through the telescope;

We looked at Saturn and Jupiter and we saw Saturn’s rings. It was pretty cool and I felt amazed as I can’t believe I actually got to operate the telescope to look at the moon. I also saw the moon’s craters and I have to admit it was awesome. One word to sum it up would be “SICK”! Year 7 Taylors Lakes student, Brad

They have also been learning how to use the telescope and have been treated to some fascinating talks by PhD student, Craig, on merging galaxies and by Masters student, Steph, on Supernovae. Pulsars will be the hot topic next week and I know everyone is looking forward to hearing about that and not wanting to jinx it, so just quietly, the weather is looking a little better too!

Listening closely to every word, with some cool light fx from teacher Rob Davie.

Listening closely to every word, with some cool light fx from teacher Rob Davie.

There has also been a lot of questions from some dads about telescopes to buy and what are the advantages and disadvantages for the different types of telescopes. I hope that doesn’t mean they will stop coming to look through our telescope!!

Pascoe Vale Girls College have started their season of observing as well this term. This year they are really focusing on training their Rephract science club students on the telescope and taking on the responsibility for some of the organization of the observing sessions, but more on that in a future post. The telescope has come out for the partial solar eclipse and an information night as well. Last Tuesday, I visited the school to help out with some observing, but the clouds (and rain) forced us inside. We did get some planning and reviewing done and it was nice to take the time to do this with one of the students and get their perspective. Just as we decided to make it an early night, a quick glance outside revealed an almost clear sky! So we quickly took the telescope outside and Year 8 student, Gaby, got the opportunity to try and align the telescope and then find Saturn. This process is a huge learning curve and Gaby did a great job and learnt a lot. And best of all, is keen to try it all again soon.

Gisborne Secondary College has been working with the local community groups including primary schools and the Girl Guides. PhD student, Jenny went to Gisborne last week to do some observing with the Girl Guides and spent some time reminiscing about when she was a member of the Gisborne Girl Guides… They also discussed the Solar System and fought the clouds to have a look at the Moon. The girls had a great night – hopefully they got a badge for that! Gisborne also had a big day for the Partial Solar Eclipse, but that event deserves a post all to itself.

Northcote High School has started off the program this year with Dr Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) and myself talking to the Year 7 and 8 students in their assembly. It was great to hear about Katie’s career so far as a Cosmologist and I am sure the students are going to have heaps of questions for her in the weeks to come. Northcote also looked at the eclipse and will be holding weekly observing sessions for the remainder of the term, starting tonight – hopefully the weather will clear up like the weather app told me it would… crossing fingers and touching wood. Not superstitious but covering all bases just in case.

Footscray City College had their second night-time observing session last Wednesday. It was probably the worst day of the week, wet, black clouds, cold. Typical Melbourne weather… As I headed out, planning the talk and activities I would be doing with the students that night, the thick black clouds were slowly moving away, leaving a nice clear sky and it had finally stopped raining. The optimistic me started to shine through and I forgot all about the talk. Adam had already set up the telescope in our usual observing spot and the Moon was starting to fight through the clouds, no stars as yet though. So a snap decision to move the telescope so we could manually track the Moon while the clouds moved away and we could finally align the telescope.

That would be Saturn. Where? Up there!  Having fun at Footscray City.

That would be Saturn. Where? Up there!
Having fun at Footscray City.

By 7pm the clouds had pretty much cleared the sky, the stars were crisp in the clean atmosphere and we were in for a perfect night of viewing. We had also converted a Dad who had been dragged along by his Year 7 daughter. Afterall it’s not every day you get to see the Moon this up close with your own eye. We spent the next hour or so looking at Saturn, the Great Orion Nebula, Alpha Centauri, and star clusters, trying to take photos with our phones and talking all things Astronomy. There was also a concert at the school and the musicians kept popping out to look through the telescope! Each interval had more and more visiting us until I am not sure anyone was left actually playing?? Just goes to show, Astronomy and science can inspire anyone.

A number of other schools are also gearing up for observing in the coming weeks and rest assured, you will be hearing about them soon.

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