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Space and Astronomy a Hit with Pupils as 1000 Schools get Free Telescopes

From next year pupils in 1 in 4 secondary schools will get close up views of the Moon, planets and the stars, in one of the largest astronomy outreach projects ever seen in the UK. The Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have teamed up to give free telescopes to 1000 secondary schools from early in 2009.

This landmark project – Telescopes for Schools - is just part of the global effort to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), which commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope for astronomy, work that led to a scientific revolution.

Professor Ian Robson, who heads up the IYA2009 activities in the UK said “The UK is a world leader in astronomy and we aim to use IYA2009 to provide a launch pad to stimulate public interest in astronomy and the night sky and to encourage the take-up of science and technology in schools. The launch of this project is tremendously exciting and I look forward to the excitement it will generate.”

Four centuries later, astronomers hope to achieve a different kind of revolution in UK schools - using the 1000 telescopes to enthuse students about science. The project aims to attract them to astronomy and space science, which pupils are consistently excited about as well as the underpinning subjects like physics and mathematics.

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The RAS sees ‘Telescopes for Schools’ as just the beginning. RAS President Professor Andy Fabian backs the project wholeheartedly and believes every school should have a telescope. “The beauty of the night sky inspired me to take up a career as an astronomer. I want a new generation to have the chance to answer the ‘big questions’ that astronomers and space scientists think about every day. With Telescopes for Schools you can follow in Galileo’s footsteps and look at craters on the Moon or the satellites of Jupiter or decide to look at more distant objects. Either way, the telescopes will give you a better understanding of the wider Universe.”

The participating schools will receive a DVD with clips explaining how to use their telescope and what they can look at. Today marks the launch of the Moonwatch section of the SPA website, developed to support the Telescopes for Schools project. This will show teachers what they can observe on a clear night and it will have links to other resources and websites, including resources specifically identified by the RAS for use in schools.

Space scientist and SPA President Dr Helen Walker sees this as a great way to liven up science in schools. “The UK has a flourishing community of amateur and professional astronomers. Through Telescopes for Schools they can share their enthusiasm with our young people - we hope to reach tens of thousands of pupils each year. We think every pupil should have the chance to look through a telescope, an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The STFC is the UK’s funding agency for astronomy and space science and actively builds links with teachers and schools to capitalize on the inspiration of these research areas. Dr Robin Clegg, Head of the STFC Science in Society Programme, said “We are using astronomy as a way to interest pupils in science areas and to help teachers give them starting skills in this area.

This is part of our wider programme of supporting teachers and students and helping to recruit the next generation of scientists and engineers in the UK.” STFC offer a wider range of support for teachers including visits, funding, print and web resources and access to researchers.

Robert Massey | alfa
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