Students at Iona Presentation College have become published astronomers after submitting their observations of stars to a 100-year-old astronomical organisation.
The girls used the SPIRIT telescope to observe variable stars—stars that change brightness—as part of an extension science program at the college.
They created light curves based on their observations and submitted their work to the American Association of Variable Star Observers.
The data was verified by the association and published for use by the astronomy community around the world.
Paul Luckas, who built the telescopes and manages the SPIRIT telescope initiative, said astronomy is one of the last areas of science where amateurs can make new discoveries.
“This is students doing genuine science,” he said.
The telescope used by the Iona students is located on a roof at UWA but can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world through the internet.
It is part of the SPIRIT telescope initiative, a program that gives WA schools access to the same tools used by professional astronomers to observe and collect astronomical data.
Mr Luckas, who is based at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said the Iona students began working with the telescope in Year 9.
“They started out using SPIRIT to capture photographs of astronomical objects,” he said.
“Now the students are in Year 10, they’ve progressed to doing real research with the telescope.”
Mr Luckas said the SPIRIT program is unique in Australia.
“SPIRIT is the country’s only continually operating educational robotic telescope outreach initiative,” he said.
“Worldwide it remains one of only a handful of successful web-enabled outreach telescopes with remote, real time operation.”
Access to SPIRIT telescopes is free for all teachers and students in Western Australia.