New telescope for ACT schools at Mt Stromlo

17 March 2017

Canberra's first astronomical teaching observatory for school students has been officially opened at the University's Mount Stromlo Observatory on the site of a telescope that had been destroyed in the 2003 bushfires.

The McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope (MSATT) includes a high-end 30cm robotic telescope housed in a dome, plus a range of smaller telescopes. The facility is designed for student research projects in astronomy.

The project is the brainchild Melrose High School science teacher Geoff McNamara, who won the 2014 Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

"It's a small facility - I'm actually thinking of calling it the VLT mark two - in this case it stands for very little telescope. But it's what goes on inside," Mr McNamara said.

"It's the concepts, it is the wonder that follows curiosity. It is the mastery of the instrument that replaces hesitation.

"But most importantly it's all about trying to inspire students to study science."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC, who spent 23 years working at Mount Stromlo, said it was special to have the new teaching telescope on the site of the Uppsala Telescope dome, which was destroyed in the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

Uppsala was relocated to the University's Siding Spring Observatory campus in 1982.

"The teaching telescope is really a landmark facility across the country to help inspire the next generation of space scientists," Professor Schmidt said.

"Today is an example of how a passionate teacher with a great idea can have such a positive and extensive influence on the lives of the young people under that care."

MSATT was largely funded by private donors, Dr Denis and Vee Saunders, who donated $35,000 towards the telescope that the dome's construction.

The telescope has been designed for use by students from Year 9 to Year 12. No experience with astronomy or telescopes is necessary, and any student from the ACT region can apply to use MSATT for a project.

Possible projects include measuring the mass of Jupiter, or investigating properties of stars. Each project will be tailored to the needs and abilities of the student. In return, the student produces a referenced and refereed report on their findings.

MSATT is also available for one-off sessions, catering for small groups up to 10 people, special interest school science groups, families, or community groups wanting to learn more about astronomy.

MSATT is a cooperative project between donors, The Australian National University, and the ACT Education Directorate, and is located at Mount Stromlo Observatory.