New SPIRIT for student astronomy

SPICE Physics ICRAR Remote Internet Telescope

The $100,000 SPIRIT II telescope based at the University of Western Australia, will give students easy, remote access to a world-class optical observatory.

MORE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN SCHOOL STUDENTS will be able to take part in an innovative astronomy programme through The University of Western Australia (UWA), thanks to an agreement signed yesterday between Hawaiian Pty Ltd and UWA.

Funded by Hawaiian (a commercial property development and management company) and UWA, the $100,000 sophisticated optical telescope, SPIRIT II, will boost the successful SPIRIT I programme.
SPIRIT II will enhance and extend the University’s School Outreach and Teacher Development programme, SPIRIT I. SPIRIT I is the SPICE-Physics-ICRAR Remote Internet Telescope. SPIRIT II provides the latest equipment and offers a broader range of scientific research.

The new telescope will enable many more Education Department schools throughout WA to benefit from the programme in which students from Years 7 to 12 use their home computers to take their own images of galaxies hundreds of millions of light years away and of planets, comets and asteroids.

Astronomy from the classroom

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the University expected the programme to encourage more young people to seriously contemplate studying science at tertiary level.

“This programme showcases science as an exciting subject – and Australia needs more scientists if we are to progress as a nation,” Professor Robson said.

Globular star cluster

An image of a globular star cluster, taken by the SPIRIT I telescope.

“We are grateful to Hawaiian for its generous donation and partnership in this venture.”

Paul Luckas, SPIRIT I and II Programme Manager at UWA’s Centre for Learning Technology, said no matter how remote their school, students would be able to use their home computers at night and take their own images.

“All they need is the Internet to access two powerful telescopes when SPIRIT II joins its ‘little sister’ SPIRIT I on the roof of the UWA Physics building,” Mr Luckas said.

Hawaiian CEO Russell Gibbs said it was pleasing to support such an innovative astronomy programme at UWA.

“At Hawaiian we have a philosophy of uniting business and people, which is delivered through business collaboration and community partnerships.  We believe in supporting young people living in Western Australia and I’m sure there is much to be gained from this exciting new telescope.”

Technical details

SPIRIT II (sister to SPIRIT I) will be a 0.4m corrected Dall-Kirkham design telescope. Though the CCD camera is yet to be finalised, it will likely provide about a half a degree FOV with somewhere between 1 and 2 arc seconds per pixel resolution. A matching filter wheel will provide both photometric and astrophotographic filter options.

The instrument will be housed in an automated Sirius Observatory, adjacent to SPIRIT I at The University of Western Australia

The system is fully automated, and available to WA students via the Internet using nothing more than a browser. This novel project provides multiple modes of operation—from a fully hands on experience where students literally get to “drive” the telescope in real time via the internet, to multi-client scheduling and data collection for research and survey work (clients submit observation requests which are processed automatically).

“Currently we (SPICE) have provided professional development and resources to about 50 teachers in WA, with more planned in the coming months,” Mr Luckas said. “Within that population, approximately 100 students and groups have accessed SPIRIT I on-line.”

SPIRIT is a joint SPICE, Physics and ICRAR (International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research) project, hosted at The University of Western Australia.

Adapted from information issued by UWA.

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