STARGAZ­ING STU­DENTS

With Aus­tralia set to en­ter the space race, there has never been a bet­ter time for schools and stu­dents to learn about as­tron­omy and re­lated tech­nolo­gies.

The Australian Education Reporter - - EXCURSIONS & INCURSIONS - EMMA DAVIES

FOR­MER CSIRO head Dr. Me­gan Clark AC will be­come in­terim head of Aus­tralia’s new space agency fol­low­ing the Fed­eral Govern­ment’s re­sponse to the Re­view of Aus­tralia’s Space In­dus­try Ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­port.

The Aus­tralian Govern­ment has com­mit­ted to the de­vel­op­ment of Aus­tralia’s space in­dus­try to drive in­vest­ment, cre­ate jobs and position Aus­tralia as a key par­tic­i­pant in the global space econ­omy; so it make sense for stu­dents who will be part of this fu­ture work­force to ex­pand their knowl­edge of the sec­tor through in­no­va­tive in­dus­try based excursions.

CSIRO’S PULSE@PARKES pro­gram al­lows high school stu­dents to take con­trol of the Parkes ra­dio tele­scope from the Sci­ence Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre at CSIRO As­tron­omy and Space Sci­ence Head­quar­ters in Mars­field, Syd­ney.

Stu­dent can ob­serve pul­sars (the rapidly spin­ning rem­nants of stars af­ter su­per­nova ex­plo­sions) un­der the guid­ance of pro­fes­sional as­tronomers.

Pul­sars are stud­ied to test the fun­da­men­tal laws of physics and have al­lowed sci­en­tists to in­ves­ti­gate the sta­bil­ity of atomic clocks on Earth. They may even help in the de­tec­tion of grav­i­ta­tional waves, as pre­dicted by Al­bert Ein­stein.

Stu­dents could po­ten­tially dis­cover a new pul­sar, iden­tify un­usual ones, or de­tect sud­den glitches in their ro­ta­tion. This data col­lected is added to a grow­ing database of re­sults used by as­tronomers for on­go­ing re­search.

CSIRO Ed­u­ca­tion and Out­reach Spe­cial­ist Robert Hollow said a team mem­ber vis­its the school ahead of time to give a back­ground talk about ra­dio as­tron­omy, the Parkes ra­dio tele­scope, and pul­sars.

“On the ac­tual ob­serv­ing day stu­dents get an­other brief­ing and are in­tro­duced to the ob­serv­ing sys­tem and the pul­sars in our ob­serv­ing sched­ule. They learn how to de­ter­mine which pul­sars will be ob­serv­able dur­ing their two hour al­lo­ca­tion on the tele­scope,” Mr Hollow said.

“Stu­dents work in groups of three or four, each group then tak­ing turns to con­trol the tele­scope, se­lect then ob­serve a cou­ple of pul­sars and view their data.”

Stu­dents then de­ter­mine the dis­tance to pul­sars us­ing their data, which is freely and pub­licly avail­able on­line for use post-ses­sion.

“We dis­cuss the value of pul­sars for a range of in­ter­est­ing sci­ence top­ics in­clud­ing the search for grav­i­ta­tional waves and in­ter­stel­lar space craft nav­i­ga­tion,” Mr Hollow said.

“An in­te­gral part of the pro­gram is that stu­dents meet with our pro­fes­sional as­tronomers, PHD stu­dents and of­ten vis­it­ing as­tronomers from over­seas dur­ing the ses­sions. As they work in small groups they have plenty of op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss as­tron­omy, sci­ence ca­reers and re­search with our team.”

Mr Hollow said while the pro­gram does not ex­plic­itly ad­dress ‘space’ as com­pared with ‘as­tron­omy’ it in­tro­duces stu­dents to the tech­nol­ogy in­volved in ra­dio as­tron­omy, data ac­qui­si­tion and data anal­y­sis.

“As part of the prepara­tory talks we cover CSIRO’S oper­a­tion of the Can­berra Deep Space Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Com­plex, on the three NASA Deep Space Net­work Sta­tions and we also men­tion our new NOVASAR satel­lite op­er­a­tions for earth ob­ser­va­tions,” he said.

“The skills ad­dressed in the pro­gram would be eas­ily ap­pli­ca­ble in earth ob­ser­va­tion do­mains. The em­pha­sis on ”big data” and data anal­y­sis leads us to dis­cus­sions on the value of data in mod­ern sci­ence ap­pli­ca­tions.”

The PULSE@PARKES ses­sions are free for schools, with about 1800 stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing across Aus­tralia. Ses­sions are run in­ter­state in col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­sti­tu­tions such as the Vic­to­rian Space Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre.

“For stu­dents out­side NSW we run at least one in­ter­state ses­sion an­nu­ally, usu­ally in WA or Vic­to­ria, though we have also run a tour of Tasmania in re­cent years,” he said.

“We are ac­tively ex­plor­ing op­tions for run­ning ses­sions re­motely where stu­dents take part from their school but com­mu­ni­cat­ing with us here in Syd­ney in real time.”

“We have also held one-off ses­sions in other coun­tries in­clud­ing Wales, Eng­land, Canada, Nether­lands, Taiwan, plus ded­i­cated tours with mul­ti­ple ses­sions to Japan (twice), China (twice) and South Africa. We have an up­com­ing tour to Cal­i­for­nia in June.”

CSIRO also caters for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for teach­ers with an an­nual three day work­shop held at Parkes Ob­ser­va­tory where reg­is­tered NSW teach­ers can re­ceive full ac­cred­i­ta­tion for work­shop hours. The work­shop also qual­i­fies as a Galileo Teacher Train­ing Pro­gram, pro­vid­ing in­ter­na­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for par­tic­i­pants.

For teach­ers’ in­ter­state, the Aus­tralian Sci­ence Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and state-based as­so­ci­a­tions of­ten host CSIRO led work­shops which not only pro­vide net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties but are tai­lored to syl­labus re­quire­ments.

For schools look­ing to give their stu­dents or teach­ers’ deeper un­der­stand­ing of Aus­tralia’s cur­rent and fu­ture ca­pa­bil­i­ties in as­tron­omy and the space in­dus­try visit: http://pulseat­parkes.atnf.csiro.au/.

As they work in small groups they have plenty of op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss as­tron­omy, sci­ence ca­reers and re­search with our team.”

CSIRO Ed­u­ca­tion and Out­reach Spe­cial­ist Robert Hollow with stu­dents at the Sci­ence Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre at CSIRO As­tron­omy and Space Sci­ence Head­quar­ters.

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