This week is National Science Week. For UWA’s researchers, postgraduate students and science communicators of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), it’s an opportunity to give back to the Western Australian community through a range of outreach and education programs.
Pete Wheeler, ICRAR’s Outreach and Education Manager, is currently in Tom Price teaching students how to image the region’s amazing night skies.
“The night skies are very clear out here, there’s not as much light pollution,” said Pete. “Once you get away from the main town, very quickly you get to see some very dark skies. The Milky Way is bright, like a full moon. You can actually see from the light of the Milky Way.”
There are seven Year 10 students from Tom Price Senior High involved in the latest program. “It’s a short course that engages a small number of students intensively,” said Pete. “The students maybe haven’t participated fully in science before, and this gives them an opportunity to learn about science, space and astronomy.”
As part of the course, Pete spends a couple of hours with the students each day, teaching them how to wrangle the digital SLRs they’ll use to take spectacular photos of the night sky.
“We’re hoping to get some images of the Milky Way, the Lagoon Nebula, and Omega Centauri – which is a cluster of millions of stars held together by gravity in an enormous ball,” said Pete.
Pete says it’s very gratifying to see students switched on to science. “Not only do our students become more interested in science themselves, but they actually become advocates for science education to their peers. It’s a fantastic outcome!”
Pete also had a tip for anyone interested in doing some star-gazing tonight:
“If it’s not too cloudy tonight, look up at the sky between 6:00pm and 6:30pm. You’ll see a dot a hand span below the moon. That’s Mercury.”
For ICRAR, National Science Week’s highlights also include community night sky observing events, an exhibition at the WA Museum in Geraldton, support of Perth’s Science Festival, and talks for community groups and schools.
Pete is also delivering a regional ‘Astrofest’ event in Tom Price featuring telescopes, an astrophotography exhibition, astronomy themed art activities and even glow-in-the-dark water rocket launches.
Back in Perth, Dr Danail Obreschkow is at Subiaco library, telling people about the Square Kilometre Array project to build the world’s largest radio telescope and also his recent experimental exploits in Zero G.
Meanwhile, Dr Luke Davies is taking time out from discovering how galaxies form and evolve to give a talk to an audience of 300 students at John Curtin College of the Arts, and Kirsten Gottschalk, ICRAR’s very own ‘Astronomy Ambassador’, is engaging the online masses via social media, the relaunch of the ‘Science is Amazing’ Facebook page and a new online project called galaxy Explorers – already, 100,000 galaxies have been classified by thousands of citizen scientists around the country.
And, if this isn’t enough, then just last week ICRAR researchers made headlines around the world after a study of more than 200,000 galaxies revealed the energy being emitted by stars and galaxies is half what it was 2 nearly billion years ago, pointing towards the eventual death of the Universe. Google ‘Don't Panic, the Universe is dying’ to find out more.
Since launching in 2009, more than 100,000 students, teachers and members of the public have participated in ICRAR outreach programs, with hundreds of thousands engaging through the Centre’s growing online presence.
With some of the world’s best radio telescopes already producing science in outback Western Australia and the world’s biggest radio telescope on the horizon, WA is now a global hub for astronomical research, science communication and outreach.