29 Oct 2009

(Please click images to enlarge)

The trouble with viewing stars in the daytime...

Faulkes Telescope North

Many of us have looked up at the night sky and wondered what's out there. We can see the stars - lots of them - and we see the moon and, if we're lucky and have a little knowledge in which direction to look, we can spot a planet or two.

If we want to look deeper? Learn a little more about our solar system or what's between those twinkling little lights? Well, for years, at Uplands, there has been our GCSE Astronomy class (now held on a Tuesday), and locally there is the Wadhurst Astronomical Society, which meets on the third Wednesday of the month in the Methodist Church, Wadhurst (details on the website).

However, unless there's an event such as a solar eclipse, actual space viewing is difficult in the daytime, because the light from the sun prevents the observation of dimmer objects. Although there are some activities we can, and will, do at school (eg observing and recording sunspots) for studying more distant suns and galaxies we need further assistance...

...and this is where the Faulkes Telescopes come in.

Two large (2m) telescopes have been made available for educational use. In the northern hemisphere, Faulkes Telescope North (FTN) is in Hawaii (Haleakala Observatory ) and in the southern hemisphere, Faulkes Telescope South (FTS) is in Australia (Siding Spring Observatory). The best thing about these two telescopes is they are in nighttime during our daytime, and we can obtain full and exclusive use of them for our half-hour (previously booked) sessions.

As long as there's access to a computer and the internet, the telescopes can be robotically remote controlled from anywhere (I've heard that someone even used an iphone when he couldn't get computer access!) to locate any visible astronomical object of interest (with limits on the brightness), which can then be photographed. The image can then be downloaded for use from the Faulkes Telescope website.

We have now tried out the telescope a few times.

The first trial was a bit of a flop, because there was a glitch in the system and we couldn't get the telescope to take pictures. The second effort was more successful and, using FTN, we managed to take images of the Ring Nebula in Lyra (M57) with colour filters and the hydrogen alpha filter (dark splodges on images are dust on telescope):

FT North:Tue 9 June, 2009 10:30 UTC

M57 (Ring Nebula in Lyra): RGB (Red, Green and Blue) filters

M57 (Ring Nebula in Lyra): H-alpha (hydrogen) filter

as well as a these two interacting galaxies:

NGC 6621: RGB (Red, green, blue) filters

and a cluster of galaxies:

NGC 6027: RGB (Red, green and blue) filters

This year we will be introducing the telescope to all year 7 groups as part of their 'Forces and Space' course, as well as hopefully visiting local primary and secondary schools. More news on this to follow...

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9 Oct 2009

(Please click images to enlarge)

Open Evening 2009

As usual, all departments put on a good show for Open Evening. The science block emitted flashes and loud foghorn sounds (sound tubes) and provided much interest for visitors.

Astronomy was a special feature this year. The corridor leading to the physics area was adorned with Yr7 students' solar system shoe boxes:

Sam Newton (left), Alice Florey (right)

Edward Davies

Oscar Silburn (left), [un-named] (right)

Georgina Clark (left), Holly Heaton (right)

...and the walls displayed a variety of astronomical pictures, posters and data:

Astronomy board outside Lab 8

Posters by GCSE astronomy group in upstairs corridor
and inside Lab 8, amongst the other displays on the walls:

Lab 8 'Life cycle of stars' board

Detailed picture and diagram labelling the moon's features

Lab 8, Louise Gray

Inside the physics lab there were further astronomical displays...

One of great interest to young students was a program written in C++ from scratch by Dominic Oram, currently yr 13, a former GCSE astronomy student. The program, created as part of an Extended Project scheme, modelled the gravitational interaction between stars and planets. You could change the number of stars/planets (as long as it was less than 200!), each planet’s properties, how much light the stars gave off and see the objects with reflected light. The variables you can change on each planet include spin, mass, size and colour, including the surface texture. The colourful and informative interactive program showed how these changes would affect the orbits of planets around each other. Though already very advanced, the program is still in development, and Dominic is hoping to add further improvements. For example, a simulation of the heat the star creates and so the temperature of each planet orbiting the star.

Dom working on his program

Meanwhile, Sammy Pooley of the drama department had recently created a film from many online clips showing Jupiter and its moons (Io, Callisto, Europa, Ganymede), particularly relevant to the evening because all the department's major telescopes were focused on the planet outside. The film, played throughout the evening, was a beautiful construction of Jupiter and its moons from many angles, set to classical music, with Mikey Pooley (yr 11) providing an informative voice-over, describing what could be seen. Also incorporated into the film was a clip of the current year's GCSE astronomy group, role-playing the four Gallilean moons showing the different orbits around Jupiter.

Outside in the courtyard, long queues formed to see three moons brightly visible in the clear evening sky (the fourth put in a late re-appearance after completing its transit in front of Jupiter). A couple of students manned the telescopes, which needed re-aligning as Jupiter moved across the sky over the course of the evening. Although there was a few teething problems with the new telescope, most people were pleasantly surprised, some highly excited, how easily the moons could be seen, many never having looked at a planet before let alone through a telescope.

Our newest toy (MySky) was also popular (although aiming it proved a challenge for some!) We located the Wild Duck cluster and the comet Whipple.

Unfortunately, due to total forgetfulness, no photos were taken on the night :-(

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