Rising from the ashes of the 2003 bushfires is a new high-quality telescope at the Australian National University’s (ANU) Mount Stromlo Observatory that will bring the frontiers of space closer than ever for ACT school students and budding astronomers.
Yesterday’s opening of the McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope 2 (MSATT 2) comes just two years after the opening of Canberra’s first teaching telescope, designed for students in years 9 to 12.
This year, 30 students are conducting their research projects using the telescopes. The telescopes are a unique and special resource for students, offering them the opportunity to work at levels not previously possible in the ACT or in many other jurisdictions in Australia.
Science teacher and MSATT manager Geoff McNamara came up with the idea while looking for ways to encourage his students to explore the mysteries of the universe.
He said the new telescope, housed in a purpose-built dome at the Mount Stromlo Observatory site destroyed in the 2003 bushfires, complements the first teaching telescope built in 2017.
“MSATT 2 has a larger aperture to counter the ever-increasing light pollution in Canberra,” Mr McNamara said.
Mr McNamara said no experience with astronomy or telescopes is necessary to operate the equipment and any student from the ACT region can apply for telescope time.
“The ultimate goal is to inspire and empower students to undertake tertiary science education with enthusiasm and confidence, to not be afraid of manipulating, operating and calibrating scientific instruments, and to get the most out of such instruments as they develop their understanding of the cosmos.”
Mr McNamara said the first teaching telescope has been in constant demand by students who can also utilise mentors to help them analyse and report their findings.
The mentor roles are largely filled by graduate students from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA).
RSAA Director Professor Matthew Colless said he hopes it will lead to more students undertaking science courses in high school and university.
“It’s a pleasure for ANU to be able to help high school students get hands-on experience doing astronomy,” Professor Colless said.
MSATT is a collaborative project between donors, ANU and the ACT Education Directorate. It has been largely funded by scientist Dr Denis Saunders and his wife Vee, with RSAA providing the site and assisting with construction and operations.
The ACT Government will further invest $5000 per year for three years to assist with the maintenance and upkeep of the McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope facility.
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development Yvette Berry said the ACT Government is committed to providing opportunities for all students to participate in science, technology, engineering and maths education (STEM).
“These real-world problem-solving skills are increasingly important for workplace innovation and productivity. Many growing and emerging industries will require these skills, so it is important that students develop these skills through their schooling,” Ms Berry said.
With almost one in four of the nation’s space sector jobs being in the ACT, the teaching telescopes will help keep the focus on Canberra as Australia’s space capital.
Mr McNamara was also presented with a Lifetime Award for Service to students in STEM in recognition of his many years of service developing the skills and knowledge of Canberra’s students.