Astronomy is the oldest of the sciences and remains one of the most dynamic and enigmatic. It is a science that is well-served by the College’s location in Charters Towers with its clear night skies, far away from the bright lights of cities and from facilities that offer front door safe and secure night time viewing to its resident boarders and local children outside school hours.
As part of the College’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program, students enjoy the use of a wide range of large and small telescopes and associated technology in their education and extracurricular activities in this area of science. The students also gain leadership experience as they run viewing nights and workshops for other students and adults.
The largest telescope, a Celestron CGEM-925 telescope, is housed within an onsite Sirius observatory dome designed for a tutor and up to eight students to observe from within. The installation’s set up, operation, ongoing maintenance and development is undertaken and overseen by the students in consultation with their teachers and an astronomical community of professional astronomers, amateur astronomers and astronomy educators. Lectures on students’ chosen topics are the most popular, followed closely by hands-on activities and workshops.
The telescope and dome are computer driven through SkyX Pro software which includes an extensive set of astronomical catalogues and the tools to quickly access this information. The catalogues include many industry-standard catalogues and contain astrometric and photometric data for over 1 billion stars. The software also includes an extensive set of many unusual or hard to find objects that may not appear on standard astronomical catalogues. The totally engaged students no longer rely on books and magazines for images of our celestial neighbours; instead, analysing real astronomical data from first-hand imagery of the rings of Saturn and the Andromeda galaxy are literally within their view.
A Nightscape 8300 CCD Camera, with a large 22.5mm diagonal CCD chip offering 8.3 megapixels of resolution, can be attached to allow deep space objects such as faint galaxies, star clusters and nebulae to be more clearly observed and digitally photographed. Importantly, it allows the telescope and dome to be remotely accessed in real-time over the Internet and the College’s Intranet and Wi-Fi, both for research and fun, available for all to support classroom astronomy education anywhere and everywhere and to foster enthusiasm towards science by students and public alike.
Few people ever get a chance to look through a modern and powerful telescope even once in their lifetimes. At BTC, every student will have opportunities that any astronomer would envy.
A group of keen astronomers were lucky enough to talk to Thomas Bopp, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale–Bopp, on a recent visit to Australia. Thomas was kind enough to dedicate some of his time to students from BTC.