Pascoe Vale Girls go Solo

As I mentioned in my last post, the Pascoe Vale Girls College science club, Rephract, hosted some Year 10 Science students for an observing night. The Rephract group aligned and drove the telescope for the entire evening with no assistance from their teachers. This is a sensational effort from the girls and they are to be congratulated on their achievements. The Year 10 Science group thoroughly enjoyed the evening and wanted to share this report with you.

Starry Night

On the 28th of May, a cluster of students observed a cluster of stars called ‘The Jewel Box’, as well as Saturn and its moons. The viewing conditions were ideal for witnessing these magnificent celestial bodies. The Jewel Box is a cluster of stars that are in close proximity to each other. Due to the different range of temperatures, each star is uniquely coloured.  We were also able to view Saturn, its rings and its moons, at three different magnifications, showing the details of each ring and its many moons. Omega Centauri is located outside our galaxy. It is centred around a black hole and is surprisingly diffused for a cluster. We recommend that students attend these viewing nights as they are an astonishing experience and we are very privileged to have this opportunity. 

Pascoe Vale Girls all rugged up and ready to do some observing.

Pascoe Vale Girls all rugged up and ready to do some observing.

We were able to view these splendid sites, thanks to Ms Ankers, Ms Hamilton, Ms Petrocchi, Ms O’Keefe and also thanks to Vikram, a PhD student from Melbourne University.

Christine, Giselle, Marielle, Soumaya, Chelsea 10I, Gabby 8D

 

“Anything that involves looking through the telescope is the best part of the night!” – Soumaya Fernando 10I

“I loved seeing Saturn, it was an amazing sight and I would love to see it again.” “My Dad should have come – it wasn’t even that cold!” –Christine Bulos

“Would love to learn how to take a star-trail photo.” –Monica Delos Santos 12B

“I enjoyed learning about the different types of star clusters there are – and seeing them! Globular and open clusters” “I learnt more about aligning the telescope” – Gaby Iocco 8D

It looks like the students are keen to come back and get onto some astrophotography. I look forward to seeing where they head next.

Views of the Sky

There has been a lot of photography going on as well and as the images come in, I will be sure to post them. There is also a new gallery of the images taken by students and teachers of the program including those taken by Bruce Drummond, teacher from Suzanne Cory HS, on his Canon 600D last week. The details are below.

Craig giving his talk on Pulsars to a captivated audience at Taylors Lakes College

Craig giving his talk on Pulsars to a captivated audience at Taylors Lakes College

Craig has become a regular visitor to Taylors Lakes SC and the next week saw another well received talk on Pulsars followed by some serious Q&A. I went along with Craig last week to catch up with the group and do some hands-on activities with them. The same faces were there and it is great to see this regular group of students and parents come along each week. They have obviously developed a real relationship with Craig and hold him in high-esteem, asking all sorts of questions about astronomy, astrophysics, relativity and the history and philosophy of science. It is fantastic to see this animated discussion being fostered so vibrantly and the group are taking full advantage of having a regular visit by an expert.

I went out to Charles La Trobe College a few Mondays ago to do some astronomy with the year 11 Physics class and any other interested students. In the afternoon, David, from Quantum Victoria, set up the telescope for some Solar observing. Unfortunately the clouds weren’t cooperating and they were making it very difficult to align the telescope, but we did manage to at least get a glimpse of the Sun and the huge Sunspots as the clouds parted just enough for the class to have a look. There were plenty of questions and discussion about the Sun and the telescope to fill in the cloudier times.

Checking the tablet to see what we will be looking at next at Charles La Trobe.

Checking the tablet to see what we will be looking at next at Charles La Trobe.

Later on that evening, we all reconvened and the cloud had passed and we were presented with a perfectly clear sky. The students had spent their time since school finished getting in the Astronomical mood by watching a Sci-Fi movie and eating fried chicken and were now going to be treated to a great night of observing! Armed with astronomy app-ed tablets, we found some stars to align with and then we were off! Saturn was a huge hit and this image taken by Year 9 student, Sarina, is the best I have seen on a smart phone so far. The Challenge is on!

Image of Saturn taken by Year 9 student, Sarina, from Charles La Trobe College

Image of Saturn taken by Year 9 student, Sarina, from Charles La Trobe College

The students had a great time looking up objects to view through the telescope and plenty more questions as well. They certainly proved themselves to be another knowledgable bunch of students.

Taking pictures of Saturn with smart phones at Charles La Trobe College

Taking pictures of Saturn with smart phones at Charles La Trobe College

Sunset over Suzanne Cory 3

Sunset over Suzanne Cory 3

The Tuesday night was also a clear night with a spectacular sunset, wonderfully captured by Bruce at Suzanne Cory HS. This night focused on taking some images with a Canon EOS 600D DSLR connected to the telescope and trying some different settings on the camera. You can see the spectacular image of Omega Centauri and the Great Orion Nebula. I have also posted these and more in a Gallery. The International Space Station also flew by that night which was a sight to see. Visible to the naked eye, we watched it climb above us in the SW sky for almost 5 minutes. Amazing to think there are people up there living in space. It did spark lots of discussion on living in space and Commander Hadfield who had just returned to Earth only days before. His videos have certainly been well watched and talked about. If you haven’t watched them yet, I suggest you start with this one, my personal favourite.

Saturn taken by Bruce Drummond with Cannon EOS 600D

Saturn taken by Bruce Drummond with Cannon EOS 600D

Omega Centauri taken by Bruce Drummond with Canon EOS 600D camera mounted on 12" SCT

Omega Centauri taken by Bruce Drummond with Canon EOS 600D camera mounted on 12″ SCT

Great Orion Nebula taken by Bruce Drummond with Canon EOS 300D camera mounted on 12" SCT

Great Orion Nebula taken by Bruce Drummond with Canon EOS 300D camera mounted on 12″ SCT

Not too far away, Pascoe Vale Girls were also looking at the skies. Tonight was special for the girls of the Rephract science club as they were hosting the evening. This meant that they put all their previous training and experience to work and aligned the telescope themselves and found objects for the Year 10 class to look at. I know their teachers were extremely proud of them for accomplishing this and it is wonderful to see the girls taking charge and being so proficient with the telescope. The year 10 class that attended the night have written their own report, so keep a lookout for their post coming up next. Talking with Vikram, the PhD student who attended that night, he was also very impressed with how the girls conducted herself.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week turned out cloudy and Tuesday night was the last of the good weather. We didn’t let that deter us though as we still visited Northcote HS and Footscray City College as well. We did some more training, had a Question and Answer session and watched some great Astro and Physics videos.

As I look out my window now and peruse the weather sites, this week is not at all promising for optical astronomy. Just as well it is exam season here in Melbourne and we are head down buried in books and exam papers. If you need a distraction, as I am sure you do, or something to brighten your day. Head to the new gallery, showcasing the latest images taken by the schools and join me next week when the weather is looking a little brighter.

Astronomy everywhere

A couple of weeks ago the members of the University of Melbourne Astrophysics Group found ourselves all over Victoria. It was great to see more of our regional schools and meet some new families. It is wonderful to see not only the students who have dragged their families along, but also the parents and siblings really starting to appreciate the ideas of Astronomy and Science.

Monday night at Taylors Lakes Secondary College was another cloudy night, but the regular crowd still came along to discuss telescopes some more, discuss some astronomical concepts with teacher and TiS coordinator, Rob Davie, and watch a video on the Hubble Space Telescope. This group is certainly keen and into their astronomy and with a well publicized talk on Pulsars by Craig on the agenda for the next session, they were buzzing.

On the Tuesday, I went to Shepparton to visit the McGuire College students. We spent the afternoon with Year 12 student, Dylan setting up the telescope and taking some images of the Moon during the day and playing with the Thorlabs camera.

Image of the Moon taken during the by Year 12 McGuire College student, Dylan. Taken using a Canon EOS 400D camera attached to the 12" Meade telescope.

Image of the Moon taken during the day by Year 12 McGuire College student, Dylan. Taken using a Canon EOS 400D camera attached to the 12″ Meade telescope.

The night was being attended by the Year 7 students and their families and many more. We had participants from the age of 6 all the way up to the mum’s and dad’s who were just as keen to look at the Moon and Saturn and get the perfect image on their phones. But I jump ahead…

The theme of the night was the Moon. That night, the Moon was in the waxing gibbous phase and as I drove into the street towards McGuire College, it was right there at the end of the street looking large close to the horizon. That weekend, the Moon was considered a SuperMoon. To find out what a SuperMoon is and when the next one will be (and it will be soon!) EarthSky did a great writeup about it.

Afternoon Moon at McGuire College, Shepparton

Afternoon Moon at McGuire College, Shepparton

The students and their families were split into three groups to do three activities. One was exploring craters and how they change in size depending on the size of the rock that makes the impact and the speed they are travelling on impact. Lots of sand, balls of playdough and measuring going on there. The next activity was looking at the phases and the motion of the moon and also the relative size of the Moon and the Earth. Very hands on and surprising. Lastly, we spent a lot of time looking at the Moon through the telescope. We had a full view of the Moon and then we zeroed in on some of the craters with the high powered eyepiece. With this perspective, we were able to notice craters within craters and the water droplet effect found at the centre of some of the craters. The students and parents were then able to take photos of the Moon with their phones and some of the students took some amazing photos.

McGuire College students and family members observing the Moon and taking images on their phones.

McGuire College students and family members observing the Moon and taking images on their phones.

When we had exhausted looking at the Moon, we turned to Saturn and then Alpha Centauri to look at the binary star system. The clouds had started to move across at this stage, so it was coming to the end of a great night of viewing. But just before we packed up, we attached the Thorlabs camera again and took a video of the Moon and Saturn and I am looking forward to what the Science and Media students can do with that. Stay tuned.

Staff at Northcote HS aligning the telescope.

Staff at Northcote HS aligning the telescope.

Wednesday was another amazingly clear night and Dr Katie and I headed out to Northcote High School. Katie (@AstroKatie) kept up an entertaining twitter stream of the event as she acclimatized her Californian toes the hard way. This evening was just for the teachers to learn how to use the telescope and talk further about the program. We spent a lot of time looking at Saturn, the Moon, Omega Centauri, Alpha Centauri, the Jewel Box Cluster. Here are some images Katie took of the Moon and Saturn with her phone. It was an excellent night and the teachers were well on their way to perfecting the alignment procedure and finding their way around the sky.

Moon at Nothcote HS taken by Dr Katie Mack on her smart phone.

Moon at Nothcote HS taken by Dr Katie Mack on her smart phone.

Image of Saturn frome Northcote HS taken by Dr Katie Mack on her smart phone

Image of Saturn frome Northcote HS taken by Dr Katie Mack on her smart phone

On Thursday, PhD student, Vikram took a drive down to the beautiful Geelong surf coast to do some observing with the current and future students of Bellarine Secondary College. Another clear night and despite a couple of hiccups, over 150 people came to look at and through the telescope and ask questions about the program as they attended the schools’ Information Night. They also spent most of the night looking at the Moon. Vikram took some shots of the Moon on his phone as well. Thanks also to Ethan, who helped out on the night. I am sure he was a great ambassador for the school and the program with his enthusiasm for Astronomy. Ethan was featured in our last report on our visit to Bellarine.

Image of Moon taken at Bellarine SC by Vikram Ravi on 23/5/2013

Image of Moon taken at Bellarine SC by Vikram Ravi on 23/5/2013 with a great view of the Tycho crater.