Now students can use a telescope over the internet, reports Becky Parker
"Today we're looking at galaxies and nebulae I for real." I'd never been so excited as a teacher, as my sixth-form class counted down the time to taking control of the Faulkes Telescope in Hawaii, live over the internet.
Then, we moved the telescope and took pictures, to show - then and there - to the rest of the group. They were stunned. The head popped in, too, and was amazed.
This opportunity to use equipment of a professional standard is now free to all schools. The Faulkes Telescope Project is run by a terrific team of enthusiasts, and the opportunities are brilliant.
You may be wondering if it is very complicated or if it requires you to spend freezing nights getting to know the night sky. The answer is that the back-up and support is comprehensive, and an in-service training day run by the Faulkes education team sets you up for observing and manipulating images you receive, so you quickly develop confidence. The team visited us at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury and ran a wonderful day's training for 30 people.
We all thought the experience of watching an asteroid move across the sky - as it was happening - was amazing, and everyone participating rated the course as excellent. Some sixth-form students attended, quickly mastering the basics of planning a session and image-manipulation. They are now working on a project with Faulkes education director David Bowdley, with the chance to work alongside professional astronomers as founder members of the new Faulkes Student Academy. They have produced excellent results, with one student's picture being featured as Faulkes Telescope Image of the Week (www.faulkes-telescope.comindex.php?page=2id=47).
This direct involvement has been invigorating for students throughout the school, as they see the possibility of taking part themselves in the future. We are hoping that after more training our students will be in a position to go out to other schools to help them realise the benefits of this fantastic resource.
So what now? It's easy to register your school on the website; initially, you may get 90 minutes of observing time. A simulator gives you the chance to practise controlling the telescope, and online guidance and detailed training are now available on the Faulkes website.
The Faulkes team hopes the extensive opportunities available will inspire curriculum development across a wide spectrum of subjects. In science, the telescope will not just enhance the teaching of astronomy, but provide a fascinating way to introduce the electromagnetic spectrum, for example, as you can use filters to view the night sky at different frequencies of light.
As the network of telescopes expands, the opportunities to communicate with schools in different countries and share resources increase. We've heard a lot of gloom and doom recently, about physics in particular. If anything can inspire a new generation, I would put my backing behind this project, for the incredible excitement it has generated.
A new film, Introduction to Robotic Astronomy, is available at www.faulkes-telescope.comindex.php?page=2id=39 For regional events and specific projects, follow links from "Education and Science": www.faulkes-telescope.comindex.php?page=4