STUDENTS at Sacred Heart College are reaching for the stars.
Tonight, the Sorrento school will officially commission its observatory, taking its space education to the next level.
About 18 months ago, the school’s head of science Ray Priskich had a dream to establish a fully operational observatory on campus that would make the most of the clear southern skies on the coast.
The school had been using two telescopes to facilitate its astronomy elective classes for Year 9 students and its astronomy club. And while it provided the students with an introduction to basic astronomy observing and image collection, there were limitations because the telescopes needed to be moved to an observing site, dismantled and stored after use.
Last year, it decided to invest in a remotely capable, research-grade telescope facility on-campus.
“(Studying astronomy and space sciences) challenges the imagination and highlights the enormous scale, diversity and complexity of the much grander environment we live in,” Mr Priskich said.
“The remarkable feature of this facility is that is that it can be remotely operated and is programmable.
“Students can capture the images in situ, at home at their study desk or program the telescope to take multiple images while asleep.”
“Students will take the images captured by the telescope and greatly enhance these using sophisticated image processing software.
“These enhanced images are valuable scientifically and artistically.
“Scientifically, students are able to assist professional astronomers by searching for supernovae (exploding stars), determining the rotation period of near-by asteroids, measure the light curves of variable stars and assist in the discovery of exoplanets.
“Artistically, they can transform rarely seen images by the public into high impact visual presentations that can also have an element of scientific validity.”
Year 10 student Jack Gilbert said it was “pretty cool” for the college to have its own observatory.
“It allows us to be part of more research into the stars and planets and have a firsthand look into space itself,” he said.
“Today’s technology takes us further into space and around space so there is so much more for us to learn.”
Stryker Ashman, also of Year 10, said it was a “real privilege” they could now “contribute to the astronomy society”.
“It is special knowing there is more to find, to discover,” he said.
“We are learning about the solar system by actually seeing the solar system; this may not be knowledge for every day but it helps us with our understanding about the meaning of life and why we do what we do.”
The project has been complex, with equipment sourced from all over the world, including a dome that had to be transported across the Nullarbor from Queensland, the mount that came from the US and the telescope that was imported from Germany.
Mr Priskich said there were many challenging moments with “the most nerve-wracking being the lowering of the telescope so that it faced dead-south and bolting it to the mount.”
Astronomy education is a recognised part of the Australian curriculum. The school also hopes to engage the local community in observing nights for special astronomical events.