Welcome Thomastown

This term we welcome a new school to the TiS family, Thomastown Secondary College. After a very quick delivery with the Year 9 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes looking on and helping out, we were out only a few nights later, telescope on show for the school’s Open Day.

Astrophysics Master’s student, Nicole, came along to learn how to use the telescope and answer the curlier questions. Nicole actually found herself talking more to the Year 12 students about studying at University and careers than Astrophysics, but hey, that’s one of the many reasons she and all her fabulous colleagues come along!

Nicole and Anthony running through the alignment process.

Nicole and Anthony running through the alignment process.

We set up in daylight and undercover as it had threatened to rain all day and the forecast for the evening was not positive. So we amused ourselves practicing the alignment process and showing future potential students and families what the telescope can do.

As luck would have it (and this time in a good way) the rain stayed away and the clouds broke up, so we quickly moved the scope out from the verandah and managed to look at some stars and even the Orion nebula before the clouds passed over. Finally looking through the telescope and seeing the stars certainly got the staff and students very excited.

It was an absolute pleasure meeting Jacinta and Nicole, especially when they brought along a beautiful telescope and the knowledge of how to use and look after it. My peers who I had tried to convince into coming to the Open Day, which was the grand reveal of the telescope, and didn’t, definitely missed out on a great and fun-filled experience. I’m looking forward to being able to teach them how to use it. I hope to continue being part of the team working with the telescope and would love to be part of anything and everything involving it in the future.

Katherine lining up the finderscope at Thomastown SC

Katherine lining up the finderscope at Thomastown SC

Katherine Chea, Year 12 at Thomastown Secondary College

The other week I went out to Thomastown to train some of the teachers and meet some of the students. The weather in Melbourne has been incredibly stable lately and we had crystal clear skies for our first real session at Thomastown. This report was written by a couple of senior students and pretty much says it all;

The Thomastown crowd on their first viewing night.

The Thomastown crowd on their first viewing night.

On the 8th of May Thomastown Secondary College had an astronomy night. On the night, school staff, students and their family members gazed at the stars and planets with the use of a telescope supplied by Melbourne University. We were assisted by the program coordinator, Jacinta, who demonstrated how the telescope should be controlled. The night sky was very clear and many stars and planets were visible with just our eyes. After first aligning the telescope to accurately move to coordinates of stars, we began taking turns looking at the moon and its craters. The moon’s craters appeared surprisingly clear and many of the staff and students took pictures of them through the telescope. As the night continued we had hot chocolate and continued looking at other planets such as Saturn and Mars. Saturn was unanimously decided to be the most interesting planet by the students because of its rings while Mars was considered lack-lustre as it was small and its glare prevented a clear view. All in all, the night was a success as all of the participants had a great time as they learned how the telescope worked and had a view of the moon and planets clearly with their own eyes. We can’t wait for the next astronomy night, which will probably be even better. 

Smart phone image of the Moon taken through the telescope by Erim.

Smart phone image of the Moon taken through the telescope by Erim.

Spiro and Erim –  Thomastown Secondary College

Thanks to all of the students who contributed to the post and for having such a great time.

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Autumnal Melbourne Part II

The program is also finding its way into the curriculum in some schools as well. This was never a requirement of the program but it is good to see the telescope being utilised in new ways. At Charles Latrobe College, the Year 11 class (and any other keen students) are working towards their telescope license and will be doing some solar observing and photography.

Salena working on her perfect alignment at Northcote HS - Got it first go!

Salena working on her perfect alignment at Northcote HS – Got it first go!

At Northcote High School there is a Year 9 Astronomy elective and the students have come out to look through the telescopes and talk to us about all sorts of Astronomy topics. Will and Peter are still bringing their telescopes along, including the one Peter made himself. Both of these schools have also had a chance to talk to our research students, Steph, Rob and Antonios about their research and studying at Uni.

Antonios and Rob talking to Year 9 students about their projects at Northcote HS

Antonios and Rob talking to Year 9 students about their projects at Northcote HS

Taylors Lakes SC have resumed their weekly observing sessions with the same dedicated group and new comers as well. Teacher, Rob Davie, had also organised an excursion to VSSEC (hopefully you read the report in this post) for some keen Year 7s and I will be talking to them later this week about astrophotography.

Observing at Taylors Lakes SC

Observing at Taylors Lakes SC

Bellarine SC also had their first session for the year and PhD student, Vikram made the trip down again to talk to the students. Here is a great report from Year 7 student, Jack Brady.

Jack from Bellarine Secondary College looking through the telescope.

Jack from Bellarine Secondary College looking through the telescope.

On Monday, the 12th of May, as the sun was setting over Bellarine Secondary College`s Ocean Grove campus, a large telescope was taken out into the crisp evening air. Myself, Miss Hall, Mr Lairs, several other students and parents, and Vikrim from Melbourne University (approximately 20 people in total), all braved the cold to see the wonders of the night sky.

After setting up the telescope – a rather lengthy process I might add – the first planet on the list was Jupiter. I will never forget that. When we had a very high magnification lens on, what was a red-tinged glowing dot was transformed into an amazing site. I could see brightly coloured bands of cloud, and the four Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Next up was the Orion nebula, the brightest of the three stars that make up Orion`s belt. With the naked eye, the nebula looked like every other star in the night sky – a glowing dot. However, with the aid of a telescope, you could see a cluster of four stars surrounding by a cloud of gases. We were starting to draw a crowd – by that time there must have been at least twenty people.

It was around that time that the International Space Station went overhead. From the ground, it look like a bright star moving very fast across the night sky. We also saw Mars, which only had slightly more detail than an orange Ping-Pong ball.

The moon was one of the most dazzling sites in the sky that night – literally. Even with a filter over the telescope, the moon`s pock-marked grey surface reflected the sun`s light with blinding intensity. Most people – myself included – wore a pair of sun glasses somebody had thought to bring. When my retinas weren`t being fried, I could see the heavily cratered lunar surface in amazing detail.

Moon taken with smart phone through the telescope at Bellarine SC. Credit: Christian Topolcsanyi

Moon taken with smart phone through the telescope at Bellarine SC. Credit: Christian Topolcsanyi

The final planet we saw was Saturn. Through the lens, you could see a small, pink-tinged disk surrounded by its beautiful rings, and three or four shining pinpricks of light that must have been some of the largest moons. It looked so far away out there. Now that I think about it, it`s so far away that the light I was seeing had spent three hours traveling.

Saturn taken by smart phone through the telescope. Credit: Christian Topolcsanyi

Saturn taken by smart phone through the telescope. Credit: Christian Topolcsanyi

After that, a lot of people went home, but a few stayed to help pack up. It had been one of the greatest nights of my life. Thank you to Miss Hall and all the other people who made this happen. Thank you to the planets and the stars, just for being out there.

I can`t wait until next time!

Jack Brady 7E/S1 Bellarine Secondary College

As you can see, busy times and LOTS of Astronomy.

 

Autumnal Melbourne

If you can remember back to last year, autumn for Melbourne was dismal, we hardly had any clear nights and usually we can expect the calmer weather at this time of year. Hoping I don’t speak too soon, but the last few weeks have seen the weather return to what we have come to expect. With 11 schools now in full swing on the program, it has been pretty much observing every night of the week! And we have had plenty to look at as well. Three planets – Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. It is the first time for most of the schools seeing Jupiter and its moons as Jupiter had usually set by the time we started observing, so it has been a real treat. The Orion Nebula has also been a treat, again the first time for most of the schools. The Moon has also been putting on a display for us. There was the Lunar Eclipse over the term break, the Solar Eclipse we missed out on because of rain (okay so it has rained a little, we wouldn’t be in Melbourne if it didn’t), then the Saturn/Moon Occulation and just before full moon, the moonrise was a spectacular red just on the horizon in Werribee.

We have also been getting huge groups attending the sessions – the clear skies are dragging people out or perhaps the word is getting round. We also hit our 150th observing session last Monday which is a great achievement and at this rate we will get to 200 this year without any problem!

We have had a number of visitors to our sessions. Jess from the VCA is doing a documentary on an astro-busker that sets up in the Melbourne CBD and shows people Saturn through his telescope for a small donation. She wanted to get some footage of Saturn through the telescope and we just had to oblige. Jess and her director of photography came along for the evening and got heaps of footage on the Canon EOS 700D.

I’ve just ingested the footage we got last night. 
It’s great! I love how little and precious it looks.
                                                                                              Jess Hutchison (VCA student)

When the film is finished, she is going to come back out to Footscray City College and present the film to us and talk to the media students. We can’t wait to see the finished product!

The crowd at Footscray City College.

The crowd at Footscray City College.

Suzanne Cory High School invited some leaders in STEM education in the area. I had some fantastic conversations in between taking photos of the Moon. It never ceases to amaze me how teachers can be so dedicated to making sure every child has an opportunity to get a great education and have inspiring experiences. I look forward to continuing these conversations in the future.

Teacher John Trajanovski aligning the telescope at Suzanne Cory HS on their first night for the year.

Teacher John Trajanovski aligning the telescope at Suzanne Cory HS on their first night for the year.

We have also been getting into the photography again. Louise from Pascoe Vale Girls College took this spectacular image of the Moon while I turned my back for a minute.

Waxing Gibbous Moon taken with Canon EOS 700D attached to 12" SCT. Credit: Louise Ankers

Waxing Gibbous Moon taken with Canon EOS 700D attached to 12″ SCT. Credit: Louise Ankers

The telescope also has a new room all to itself, it was looking very comfy and had a view into the new Physics lab.

Pascoe Vale Girls College telescope tucked up in bed for the night.

Pascoe Vale Girls College telescope tucked up in bed for the night.

It was the first telescope viewing night of the year and it was a success! Even though we, the Rephract members, were a little rusty in using the telescope it was great to see some new faces coming along to join us.  We managed to look at Procyon, Spica, Jupiter with its lovely horizontal bands and its moons and of course the lovely Moon itself. With some new faces coming to join us as well as the old  it was great to see the night bustling with so many people intrigued with what to experience with the Rephract group as well as using the telescope. Tuesday nights shall be my favourite evenings of the week now that the telescope is back! It saddens us that this may be the last year of having the telescope, maybe we could ask for an extension to keep the telescope?

Saumaya Fernando 11F Pascoe Vale Girls College

Dale raced home from a great night at Gisborne Secondary College to hook up the cameras to his own telescope during the occultation of Saturn with the Moon.

Occultation of Saturn and Moon, May 14, 2014 taken with Canon EOS 700D connected to telescope. Credit: Dale Barry

Occultation of Saturn and Moon, May 14, 2014 taken with Canon EOS 700D connected to telescope. Credit: Dale Barry

Saturn and Moon Occultation taken with Thorlabs CMOS camera mounted on telescope. Credit: Dale Barry

Saturn and Moon Occultation taken with Thorlabs CMOS camera mounted on telescope. Credit: Dale Barry

Amazing images already this year and I am sure there will be plenty more to come. Stay tuned we have more schools to talk about in Part II coming soon…

Astronomy Excursion

This post was written by Physics teacher, Rob Davie, from Taylors Lakes Secondary College.

Introduction to Astronomy Excursion

As part of this program I have been trialing different approaches towards encouraging student interest in using the telescope we have been given, and through it, an interest in the study of the natural world around them. To that end it occurred to me that students might be more inclined to want to view objects through the telescope if they have some sort of knowledge of astronomical bodies, even if only rudimentary. It seemed to me that if they had even a basic understanding of aspects of stars then it might spark their interest in attending the viewing evenings.

So I looked at the VSSEC website and selected the “The Stars in Your Life” and the “Reach for the Stars” program, running back to back this made for a full day’s excursion for the roughly forty students who expressed an interest to attend. The students really enjoyed the day and learnt a great deal as you read in their comments below the two images that follow.

Taylors Lakes students ready to explore the stars at VSSEC. Credit: Rob Davie

Taylors Lakes students ready to explore the stars at VSSEC. Credit: Rob Davie

Taylors Lakes students ready to fire their rockets. Credit: Rob Davie

Taylors Lakes students ready to fire their rockets. Credit: Rob Davie

I was really impressed with the quality of the learning experience provided to the students by the VSSEC staff. So what did the students think of it? Two students have commented below.

The VSSEC excursion was an amazing experience. We learnt about rockets in such a fun way. We made our own rockets with plastic bottles, triangle pieces of cardboard and sticky tape. Once they were made we filled the rockets with water, pumped the bottle with air, then had a race to mars. It was a learning experience that I will never forget. While laughing and giggling, we were learning. The other half of the day, we went on the computers learning about stars. We researched the solar system and the Visible Universe learning about our full addresses. We played games where we had to visit stars and write their information (brightness, temperature and colour). In the end, our minds were full of amazement and information. It was a fun yet educational experience.

Satomi Valencia 7K

On the 1st of April, some of the year sevens went on a science excursion to Strathmore College. We learned how to construct and fly water powered rockets, this included trying different techniques, like using different amounts of water, fewer or more fins or even how much air pressure we pump into them. We also became astronauts for a day and pretended to fly a ship to different stars in our universe. I learned that hotter stars are a bluer colour and colder stars are a red colour. With this knowledge we also found out that even though a star may be bright it can sometime be not as hot, and a star that is not so bright can be actually many time the suns heat. I also learned that I have a much bigger address that you thought. First you put your number of your house, then your street, suburb, city, and state, then your country, planet (Earth of course), then the Solar system, followed by the Orion Arm, then the galaxy, after that you put Universe. And that is my complete address.

Over all, this excursion was full-filling and I learned a lot and more importantly it was fun and enjoying.

 Olivia Brne 7K

Thank you Rob, Satomi and Olivia for your reports on this fantastic excursion!