Using Real Astronomical Data in the (virtual) Classroom

Using Real Astronomical Data in the (virtual) Classroom

By Fraser Lewis, Faulkes Telescope Project and the National Schools’ Observatory

I will present several examples of projects for students and teachers using data and resources from the Faulkes Telescope Project and the National Schools’ Observatory. Both projects have recently celebrated their 15th anniversary and both provide free access via the internet to 2-metre robotic telescopes. Each project contains supporting material on several aspects of astronomy.

I will show examples of IBSE (Inquiry-Based Science Education) type activities, designed to be ’teacher-free’, as extended projects for students interested in aspects of astronomy and space science. These include the study of, and background to, open clusters and population studies of exoplanets. As a recent addition to these projects, I will discuss a Citizen Science project, initially using data from Type Ia supernovae discovered by Gaia Alerts. Users are instructed how to perform browser-based photometry on these images using their data to add additional datapoints to the Hubble Plot, enabling them to measure the expansion rate and age of the Universe.

These projects use real data and allow students to explore the science of these objects as well as associated STEM topics such as graph plotting and measuring uncertainties. These projects allow exploration of data archives from the Faulkes Telescope Project and National Schools’ Observatory. I will also include examples of successful student work from these activities.

Other simpler activities are suitable for younger pupils and all are intended to further students’ knowledge of science and mathematics, while also improving computer literacy and communications skills, strengthening critical thinking and allowing them to experience real-world applications in science and technology. Activities around image processing encourage students to use e.g. Photoshop (or free alternatives) to produce colour images of spectacular cosmic objects such as supernova remnants, star forming regions and galaxies.

Based in South Wales, the Faulkes Telescope Project provides free access, via both queue-scheduled and real-time observations, to a global network of 2-metre, 1-metre and 0.4-metre telescopes. The National Schools’ Observatory (NSO) is located at Liverpool John Moores University. It has a mission to enable “Access to the Universe for All” and provides access to the 2-metre Liverpool Telescope on La Palma.