ASTRONOMY: Wonders of the night sky beamed into students' homes

Lockdown didn't put a stop to our astronomy students' visit to a world famous observatory 

THE wonders of the night sky were brought to life for RGS astronomy students who enjoyed an exciting interactive live trip to the world-famous Jodrell Bank observatory, beamed into their homes in lockdown.

After their usual winter trip to the Cheshire landmark, famous as the home of one of the world’s largest telescopes, had to be cancelled, students volunteered to be ‘guinea pigs’ in a pioneering virtual version of the event.

Year 11 student Alfie Goodwin said it had reignited his love of astronomy: “Online learning can be lonely, and sometimes it’s hard to get motivated, but an interactive online visit brings a new dynamic and enthusiasm.”

His classmate Soundarja Tripathi also found it fascinating: “We learnt so much about the famous Lovell Telescope which is one of the largest in the world.”

Physics and astronomy teacher Mr Barker explained how the event was run remotely, directly into students’ homes: “It was a taste of A-level physics for our astronomers who are now studying cosmology, and a chance to see what astrophysicists and radio astronomers do.

“They were able to calculate the mass of the Triangulum Galaxy (one of our neighbours) using real-life data from the Lovell Telescope and use their physics understanding of the universal equation of gravity, the doppler effect and redshift. Pretty impressive, especially for one hour's work.”

Alfie, 16, who plans to take physics, chemistry and maths at A-level and is considering studying astrophysics at university, said he was pleased the pandemic hadn’t put a stop to his class’s Jodrell Bank experience.

“We saw how lots of telescopes can be connected together to give a clearer image of objects in space and were able to learn about the famous giant Lovell telescope and the science behind it’s parabolic shape,” he said.

“We were also all able to have a go at calculating the mass of a galaxy, with the help of provided equations and data, which was fascinating.”

Soundarja added: “My favourite part was when I was able to calculate the mass of the Triangulum Galaxy by simply equating gravitational force with centripetal force and using data from the Jodrell Bank space observatory.”

The 15-year-old, who plans to pursue a career in medicine, said: “I am very grateful I got the opportunity to see the Jodrell Bank presentation and look forward to visiting when things get back to normal.

“When lockdown started, I was worried about how my learning and GCSEs would be affected. However, due to the school and teachers’ enthusiasm and excellent support, I really do not see a difference."

Mr Barker expressed his and the students’ sincere thanks to Jodrell Bank and the observatory's engagement officer Lexie Southern for the presentation.

Some of Soundarja's notes, above. Images from the presentation, below