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.
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.