Astronomy Now Online

School children control their own research-class telescopes
Posted: March 16, 2004


Thanks to the generosity of British Entrepreneur Dill Faulkes, students in the U.K. will be among the first to control two professional-level robotic telescopes in Hawaii and Australia via the Internet.

Image credit: Faulkes Telescope Project / Sea West Photo

On Tuesday, March 16, British Entrepreneur Dill Faulkes and the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees launched the Faulkes Telescope Project — a unique educational resource to ignite childrens' enthusiasm for science. Concerned by the declining interest in science and maths, Dill Faulkes, who attributes his own business success to the state education he received in these subjects, has funded the construction of two state-of-the-art robotic telescopes for use by schools.

The twin telescopes are located in prime astronomical observing areas — Faulkes North in Hawaii and Faulkes South in Australia — close to some of the worlds most powerful professional telescopes. Since the telescopes are located in different time zones school children in the U.K. will be able to use them in daytime classroom hours. The telescopes are robotic and will be controlled over the Internet. A web cam will show how the telescope is being controlled to focus on a selected object and the resulting images will be returned to schools in a matter of minutes. Schools simply book their timeslot, plan the work they want to carry out, and take control of the telescope.

"The idea of giving British youngsters access to a world-class telescope immediately appealed to me," says Dill Faulkes. "I could see that spending a few million pounds making science and maths in schools more interesting would have much more effect on children than spending half a billion on truancy measures."

Prof. Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the U.K.'s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC] said, "Making research-class telescopes available to students in schools will bring the wonder of astronomy right into the classroom. Through real-time observing schools will have a unique resource through which to teach maths and science in an inspirational and exciting way."

Educational materials to help teachers plan the use of the telescope, both as part of the National Curriculum and beyond to stretch able students, are available as well as support from astronomers. Schools will be able to select their own projects or team up with local Universities across the country to take part in genuine research projects.

Some of the available projects include tracking near-earth asteroids, imaging galaxies and studying gamma-ray bursts the most violent explosions in the Universe. Materials have been prepared for Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16 years) as well as for older groups at A-level, University and amateur groups, who will be able to use the telescope out of school hours.


Dill Faulkes explains the project to students attending his old school, John Cleveland Community College, in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

Image credit: Faulkes Telescope LLC

These resource materials have been tested by John Cleveland College in Hinckley, Dill Faulkes old school. Teacher Sue Thistlethwaite said: "We are delighted to be involved in the telescopes project because they are instruments that can bring both Science and Mathematics alive for young people. They will support our mission to improve performance in these subjects and to involve young people outside of their studies as well. Finally, Dill Faulkes is an ex-student of the College and he is a tremendous role model for our students!"

The Faulkes Telescope Project is part of the National Schools Observatory, making professional telescopes available to schools. See for details.

Further details can be found online at Other groups, such as Astronomy Societies, Youth Clubs and Adult Learning Groups will be able to use the telescopes outside of school hours.