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.

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