National Schools Observatory


Our October talk was "The National Schools' Observatory" by Dr. Andrew Newsam from the Astrophysics Research Institute, John Moores University, Liverpool. The first of three robotic telescopes will be called The Liverpool Telescope and will be located in La Palma in the Canary Isles.

Nobody will be at the observatory so if anything went wrong the computers must tell John Moores University of any problems and if possible must be able to use back up systems. A lot of planning went into the manufacture of this observatory, what would happen if a power cut happened and it started raining? The "clam shell" shutters must be set to close in case of any power cut. It was overcoming problems like these that have taken so long. The size of the mirror is 2 metres, height 8.5 metres and weighs 27 tons. The mirror itself weighs 1.27 tons. The mirror can drive horizon to horizon in 20 seconds. This telescope will also be in contact with orbiting satellites and with the speed at which it can move, if a satellite detects a gamma-ray burst the telescope can position its mirror in that area to try and register what caused the gamma-ray burst. It was difficult to get this telescope manufactured, so next door to the university a new factory was set up call Telescope Technologies Ltd to make them. This telescope will be in operation in six months time if all goes to plan. Another identical telescope will go to India and a business man named Martin Faulkes has offered 3 million to purchase another two telescopes to be located in Maui, Hawaii and Siding Spring, Australia.

The National Schools' Observatory is a major web-based resource that allows UK schools to use world-class astronomical telescopes sited all around the world. Observing time has been specially reserved on these professional instruments for schools. Working with the resources developed by the Schools' Observatory, students can prepare and carry out their own astronomical research and share in the excitement of discovery. Using the full power of the Internet, the Schools' Observatory brings cutting edge science and technology into the classroom. Is this going to cost schools to use? Yes but only about 35 per school.

The curriculum opportunities are: Science, ICT, Design & Technology, Mathematics, Gifted and Talented Programmes, Geography, Business Studies, Modern Foreign Languages, Key Skills Education and finally English. An exciting project in association with the Japanese Near Earth Object (NEO) programme, using robotic telescopes at the Bisei Spaceguard Centre in Japan, will become operational during 2001. Astronomers in Japan are searching for asteroids, particularly those on a close collision course with the Earth; and they have invited UK schools to join in the hunt and, maybe, discover an asteroid! If they do then the asteroid will be named after the student discoverer! One school in the UK has already paired up with a school in Japan to search for asteroids. Ten other schools in Britain are also taking part in this project. It is hoped the Liverpool Telescope will have first light in March 2002 and "Tomorrows World" will launch it on television. Six months after that schools who have subscribed will be invited to take part in the project.

More details of the project are available at