Star students at Coonabarabran High School

Image of Southern Pinwheel Galaxy taken by students

Konna Newton, Ashleigh Smith, Ian Whittall and Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith skyping with Dr Christian Sasse in Canada.



Most people of Coonabarabran would be aware that the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT) at Siding Spring is the largest optical telescope in Australia and it plays an important role in the search for planets around stars. People might not be aware however, that you don’t need to have a degree in Astronomy or Physics to be able to use some of the telescopes located at Siding Spring.

Coonabarabran High School was approached by the BBC to be a part of the Stargazing Live program broadcast on the ABC from the 22- 24 May. On Monday 14 May, three senior students, Konna Newton, Ashleigh Smith and Ian Whittall took part in a Skype session with Dr Christian Sasse in Canada, who ran the students through the process of taking astronomical pictures using the i-Telescope at Siding Spring. The i-Telescope facility at Siding Spring Observatory is the southern hemispheric station of a global network of small to medium sized robotic telescopes designed specifically for use by the public via the internet. Under Christian’s expert tutelage, the students remotely manipulated one of the telescopes to observe and photograph the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (Messier 83), which is a spiral galaxy approximately 15 million light years from Earth.

On Sunday 20 May, the BBC film crew, accompanied by Stargazing Live presenter Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith (a CSIRO based astrophysicist) filmed the students remotely accessing the i-Telescope and demonstrating the processes and techniques required to produce a photograph of the southern Pinwheel Galaxy. The footage and the image of the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy will then be used on the Stargazing Live program to illustrate the accessibility of astronomy to the general public. The students have also been invited to attend the set of Stargazing Live on Thursday night, where their work will be presented.