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Viewing posts from March, 2013

Telescopes, the Moon and Science Week

Last week (15 -24 march) was National Science and Engineering Week in UK, and as a break in between writing computer code and telescope scheduling, I took the opportunity to do some public engagement.

For many years St David's 6th form college has been involved in observing asteroids using our 2-meter telescopes (through our education partner, Faulkes Telescope Project). This was the first school I visited, giving a talk mostly about astronomy but also a very brief introduction to LCOGT and some of our programmes, particularly Agent Exoplanet. I was talking to the 'honours' group who are students who elect to take extra lessons which broaden their academic knowledge into areas they are not studying for A-level, like astronomy. These extra lessons are to prepare the students for the ordeals ahead of them when they apply into Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Group universities.

I gave them an hour long talk, which they then asked 20 minutes of questions afterwards, which hopefully is a measure of how interested they were. I very much hope this will inspire them to be more involved in using our telescopes in the future.

That evening Haley Gomez, Hugh Lang and I hosted tours of the Cardiff University observatory (which houses a 50cm Newtonian telescope) to over 60 members of the public. Sadly the weather did not cooperate, as is often the case in Wales, but this did not seem to hamper the enthusiasm of the visitors who asked searching astronomy questions to all of us. We managed to give the visitors the odd glimpse of the Moon through gaps in the cloud, using a couple of the University's 4" reflecting telescopes. When the sky was very cloudy we satisfied them by observing a local welsh castle, Castell Coch instead.

Later that week, I visited Trelai Primary School and spent the morning running an astronomy workshop with the whole of year 2 (56 children aged 6/7). As with all primary schools talks and workshops I give, I used a mixture of Universe Awareness and LCOGT activities. I was fortunate enough to have been given a prototype Universe in a Box kit which Universe Awareness is in the process of developing. From that kit we investigated the scale of Earth and the Moon, where the phases of the Moon come from and why we always see the same face of the Moon (which involves making masks using pictures of the Moon).

Next we explored telescopes. I talked them through some pictures of telescopes, explaining why there are so many different styles of telescope, why we need them and what types of thing you can see with each of them. We followed that up with some robotic telescope role-playing, involving all the children in the main school hall. 3 children played the part of the telescope (one to operate the digital camera, and one each for the azimuth and altitude axes); a couple of children held models of planets and spread out in different parts of the hall; the rest of the children made the internet by forming a chain-gang between the telescope and the astronomer (me). I sent a request to the 'telescope' by writing the name of one of the planets and passing it down the 'internet'. The telescope was parked (i.e. pointing straight up) so the children moved into position pointing at the required planet and took a picture. The SD card from the camera was then passed back down the chain gang to the astronomer and the picture printed on a little photo printer. We repeated this a couple of times.

We finished the day by drawing fantasy telescopes (which involved a broad mixture of space ships and traditional tripod base telescopes). The best 4 received a Cosmos in your Pocket activity book as a prize. Finally we did a little show and tell with the 4" refracting telescope I had taken along. The children were excellently behaved, thanks to the efforts of their teachers, and really seemed to enjoy finding out of about astronomy.

It was a great way to spend Science Week 2013!

First Light At SAAO For Third 1-Meter Node Of Global Telescope

The first truly global telescope came a significant step closer to completion this month with the installation and first light on three new 1-meter telescopes at the South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) near Sutherland, South Africa. A team of five Las Cumbres engineers, technicians, and a postdoc, convened at Sutherland for three weeks during late February and early March to achieve this feat.

Astrophotography on new telescopes

Here are three images  put together by BJ Fulton from the data from 2 March, 2013 on our newly installed 1-meter telescopes at Sutherland, South Africa. BJ decided that in order to keep the integrity of a "first-light" image, he would not touch-up the images in any way.