SPS help local pupils engage with observational astronomy thanks to STFC funded SPARK project

Beacon Observatory opens its doors to local pupils, “sparking” an interest in Astronomy

SPS welcomed A-level students and teachers from three local schools to the campus on 13th, 14th and 15th June to take part in an exciting project funded by the STFC.

Making the most of the School’s fantastic Beacon Observatory, the SPARK project (Schools Physicists Astronomical Research at Kent) saw students and teachers to get an insight into the world of observational astronomy – from planning observations to data reduction and data processing.

Devised and run by the Director of the Beacon Observatory, Dr Dirk Froebrich and PhD student Sam Billington the project aims to provide a unique hands on experience for school students and teachers fully encompassing all aspects of astronomical research, from project planning and target selection, observing and data analysis.

Although the days were very long, the participants had a great time and spoke highly of the event. They also produced a list of targets for the Beacon observatory which have been observed and can be seen on the Beacon Observatory Facebook page.  Beacon tour group June 2018

Many were surprised at the complicated nature of astronomical observing and appreciated the chance to experience it fully themselves. It helped the students learn a number of skills, that hopefully they will take with them as their interest grows. Talking about their experience, one student said: “The single most important thing I will remember about my experience here is the data collecting and processing that we can use in our own observatory.”

The event even included a video call to another PhD student who was undertaking observations at the Danish 1.54m telescope in La Silla in Chile. Justyn Campbell-White has been on an observing run in Chile – you can read more on his blog: https://justyncampbellwhite.wordpress.com/

It is envisaged that the project will provide a stronger collaboration between academics and participants and hopefully increase engagement and impact.

One of the teachers who participated in the event told us:

“I just wanted to say on behalf of my school a huge thank you for hosting us on our recent visit – I know that the students both benefited immensely from the opportunity and I am hopeful that it will encourage them to consider studying physics in some capacity in higher education.”

The project was funded by STFC and will continue to work with local schools, with the idea it will become an integral part of the Beacon Observatory schedule in future.

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