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Using the National School’s Observatory in the Classroom.


Guest post by Dr. Richard Moynihan.

To do astronomy in a classroom can be a challenge, which the two most obvious barriers being the expense of equipment and the fact that we teach during the hours of the day when astronomy is essentially not possible for even a well resourced 2nd level Physics laboratory. Over ten years ago, Liverpool’s John Moore’s University set up a programme to overcome these barriers. They developed the National School’s Observatory (NSO).

The NSO operates a remote telescope. Teachers and students can access this telescope online and request astronomical data from a selection of celestial bodies, including the Moon, the planets in our Solar System, galaxies, nebulae, birthing stars and dying stars. Access to the NSO is free, and teachers and students in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland are permitted full access to all the functionality that the NSO provides. All data generated by the remote telescope is interpreted using their custom software package, LT Image. Again, this software is free to use by teachers and students in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.


Use of the NSO in schools allows students and teachers to engage with astronomy in ways not afforded in a traditional classroom. Simples tasks can be easily related to the Earth and Space learning outcomes in Junior Cycle Science. The NSO provides a context to explore Leaving Certificate Physics topics such as Optics, Waves, colour-mixing and Nuclear Physics. In a short series of lessons or in an extra-curricular STE(A)M club, students can be introduced to the basics of taking RGB data and combining it to develop their own images. If teachers have a longer timeframe to devote to this, such as with the Transition Year programme, it could provide the basis for the entire module, bring in extra elements of Physics such as measuring the size of celestial bodies, determining the distance between bodies and measure the luminosity of different stars. Using the NSO software, it is possible to combine three exposures of the same body (Red, green and blue) to generate a 3 colour RBG composite. By adjusting the intensity, the contrast, sharpness and detail of each colour in the composite image, it is possible to generate high quality stunning captures of stars, galaxies and nebulae. Students can also challenge themselves to take zoomed in photographs of the moon and develop a highly detailed composite image of all of them put together as a mosaic image, a “Moonsaic” some might say.



Use of the NSO in schools allows students and teachers to engage with astronomy in ways not afforded in a traditional classroom. Simples tasks can be easily related to the Earth and Space learning outcomes in Junior Cycle Science. The NSO provides a context to explore Leaving Certificate Physics topics such as Optics, Waves, colour-mixing and Nuclear Physics. In a short series of lessons or in an extra-curricular STE(A)M club, students can be introduced to the basics of taking RGB data and combining it to develop their own images. If teachers have a longer timeframe to devote to this, such as with the Transition Year programme, it could provide the basis for the entire module, bring in extra elements of Physics such as measuring the size of celestial bodies, determining the distance between bodies and measure the luminosity of different stars.


In addition to the remote telescope and the software, the NSO website also provides video tutorials, lesson materials and a forum to help teachers and students request observations and interpret the data. Never has such a wide opportunity been provided to schools, and engaging students with near and deep sky astrophotography and astrophysics could potentially increase student engagement and interest in Physics in second level schools in the Republic of Ireland.


To access the Nationals School’s Observatory, visit https://www.schoolsobservatory.org

A slightly different version of this was published by the ISTA magazine this spring.


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