Posted: 19 November, 2008
In an ambitious project led by the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), the Science Facilities and Technology Council (STFC) and the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), 1000 telescopes will be donated to secondary schools in the UK to inspire the next generation of astronomers throughout the International Year of Astronomy.
The landmark project, Telescopes for Schools, is just one part of the global effort to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), which commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of the telescope for astronomy, as well as the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landings. An English astronomer, Thomas Harriott, also first used a telescope to observe the Moon 400 years ago.
Four centuries later, the Telescopes for Schools project aims to inspire another generation of astronomers by enthusing pupils in subjects like physics and mathematics. "We think every pupil should have the chance to look through a telescope, an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives," says SPA President Helen Walker. "The UK has a flourishing community of amateur and professional astronomers. Through Telescopes for Schools they can share their enthusiasm with our young people."
Children at the Glasgow Science Centre enjoying a first look through one of 1000 free telescopes set to be delivered to UK schools. Image: International Year of Astronomy 2009, UK.
Schools can apply for one of the 70mm refractor telescopes via the SPA’s Moonwatch website at www.popastro.com/moonwatch, designed to support the project. The participating schools will also receive a DVD with clips explaining how to use their telescope and what they can look at, as well as interviews with enthusiastic astronomers and additional support materials for teachers. The schools are encouraged to find a local astronomer to help them use the telescope, but if the school does not know any local astronomers, the SPA has undertaken to try and find one from the communities of amateur and professional astronomers.
"The UK is a world leader in astronomy and we aim to use IYA 2009 to provide a launch pad to stimulate public interest in astronomy and the night sky and to encourage the take-up of science and technology in schools,” says Professor Ian Robson, who leads the IYA 2009 activities in the UK. “The launch of this project is tremendously exciting and I look forward to the excitement it will generate."
The Telescopes for Schools project will allow students to follow in Galileo's and Harriott’s footsteps and look at craters on the Moon or the satellites of Jupiter, and many other night sky objects including the rings of Saturn, bright clouds of gas and dust (nebulae), star clusters and even other galaxies. "The telescopes will give you a better understanding of the wider Universe," says RAS President Professor Andy Fabian.