Free Internet Telescope Usage for Students

REQUESTS POUR IN FOR “SEEING IN THE DARK” INTERNET TELESCOPE

Over 1,000 requests from students around the globe

San Francisco – It appears that video games are not the only hot item in the cosmos. In its first month of operation, the Seeing in the Dark Internet Telescope (SIDIT) has shot images of distant galaxies and nebulae in response to requests from more than 1,000 students around the world.

Located high in the mountains of New Mexico and controlled over the Internet, the telescope is part of an educational outreach program associated with the PBS special Seeing in the Dark, by the science writer Timothy Ferris, which premiered one month ago and drew over one million viewers. The show introduces viewers to the wonders of stargazing and demonstrates how Internet telescopes could help democratize amateur astronomy.

“Astronomy has long been a gateway to science,” says Ferris. “Our film and Internet telescope are meant to serve as a timeless introduction to stargazing.”

Over 100,000 star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies lie within range of the telescope and its digital imaging chip. Images are obtained free of charge by students of all ages who register at the project website, www.pbs.org/seeinginthedark. The website also features stargazing teaching exercises and other educational tools, including a digital star chart, how-to videos, and links to local astronomy clubs.

“Selecting and then receiving an astronomical image of one’s own is a unique experience,” says Ferris. “We hope that science teachers will continue to encourage their students to take advantage of this free educational tool.”

Students using the SIDIT can enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a deep-space photo of their own, as well as conduct preliminary scientific research projects, such as attempting to discover asteroids and searching for supernovae (exploding stars) and the optical component of gamma-ray bursts.

Requests for images have come in from students around the globe – including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. – and from 42 U.S. states as well as Puerto Rico. The participants range from elementary level to post-graduate, from public, private, charter, parochial and home schools.

The first email was from a 12-year old girl requesting an image of a Birthday Star, which is a star whose light began traveling toward Earth the year of one’s birth. One young woman provided coordinates to find a star named after her grandfather, and another inquiry came in from the Dragon Rises College of Chinese Medicine. There are no age limits. Emails have arrived from “The On Going School of Knowledge, I am Gramma, Age 70” and “Age 77, Just Interested, Tulsa, OK.”

SIDINT is a global undertaking. The telescope unit is sited at New Mexico Skies, a high-altitude site with a proven record of successful support for Internet telescopes. The SIDIT manager, Mollie Maier, is a graduate student in astrophysics at the University of Oxford in England. Timothy Ferris, who oversees the project, is based in San Francisco.

The Seeing in the Dark Internet Telescope can image galaxies tens of millions of light years away in minutes. The images are emailed back to the students, typically within a day or two. Funding for the project is provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Press information about the Seeing in the Dark documentary is available at www.seeinginthedark.org.