Scottish Launch of Schools' Telescope

The Faulkes Telescope Project aims to inspire pupils in science, technology and maths by giving them access to some of the most exciting and inspirational astronomical instruments available for use in the classroom. The Project was launched in Scotland today by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and John Brown, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, at the Royal Museum, National Museum of Scotland.

The Faulkes Telescopes are two fully robotic, research standard, 2 metre class telescopes operated over the internet. The location of the telescopes, half a world away in Hawaii and Australia, enables the night sky in both the northern and southern hemispheres to be observed from the classroom during the Scottish school day.

The twin telescopes are located in prime astronomical observing areas close to some of the world’s most powerful professional telescopes. Web cams show the telescopes being moved in real-time to focus on a selected object and the resulting images are returned to schools in a matter of minutes. Schools simply book their timeslot, plan the work they want to carry out and take control of the telescope.

John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland welcomed the initiative "This project will bring the wonder of the night sky right into the classroom, giving schools a unique resource through which to teach maths and science in an inspirational and exciting way."

Concerned by the declining interest in science and maths, philanthropist Dill Faulkes, who attributes his own business success to the state education he received in these subjects, has funded the construction of two state-of-the-art robotic telescopes for use by schools. He commented "The idea of giving youngsters access to a world-class telescope immediately appealed to me".

The project is providing educational materials to help teachers plan the use of the telescope, both as part of the National Curriculum and beyond. There will also be opportunities to work with astronomers. The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh is the Scottish centre for the Faulkes Telescope Project. It is promoting the project to schools and will be offering teachers practical support to make the most of their observing time. Dan Hillier, manager of the Royal Observatory Visitor Centre said "We have recently piloted our support package with four schools. To make this type of support available locally throughout Scotland we are now inviting a network of organisations such as university astronomy departments, amateur astronomy groups, science centres, museums and teacher networks to become partners in the exciting future for the Faulkes Telescope Project."

Dawn Knight, physics teacher at Dalkeith High School, said "We are delighted to have been able to pilot this project in Scotland. Using the telescopes has been really inspirational for the children, bringing science and maths alive. The students from the Royal Observatory that have worked with us have been great role models for our pupils."


Notes to Editors

Images

Faulkes North and the Milky Way

Composite image of the Faulkes Telescope North in Hawaii and the Milky Way, courtesy of Nik Szymanek.

 

 

Sombrero Galaxy

Image of the Sombrero Galaxy taken by pupils at George Watson’s College school using the Hawaiian telescope.

 

 

Whirlpool Galaxy

Image of the Whirlpool Galaxy taken by pupils at The Mary Erskine School using the Hawaiian telescope.

 

 

Jupeter

Image of Jupiter taken by pupils at Dalkeith High School using the Hawaiian telescope.

 

 

Satern

Image of Saturn taken by pupils at Peebles High School using the Hawaiian telescope.

 

 

Project Funding

The project has been realised through a 10 million donation from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. This trust was set up in 1998 with the aim of providing projects which would inspire young people.

The Faulkes Telescope Project has also received additional funding of approximately £750,000 from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council for basic sponsorship, spectrographs and staff effort; and funds from the Department for Education and Skills to enable an online educational programme to be developed. The Faulkes Telescope Project is part of the National Schools Observatory, making professional telescopes available to schools.

The launch event has been organised with, and funded by PPARC.

The Telescopes

The telescopes were built in Birkenhead by Telescope Technologies Ltd, a spin-off company from Liverpool John Moores University.

Each telescope has a 2 metre diameter primary mirror, a 2048x2048 pixel CCD camera and a field of view of 4.5 arcminutes in diameter. They are mounted so they can move in elevation and azimuth independently, with the two axes controlled by a computer to track the movement of stars across the sky. The telescopes are housed in state-of-the-art enclosures that open like a clam shell.

The whole telescope system is designed to operate automatically. When users take control of one of the telescopes, the commands entered onto the webpage are sent to the telescope via a control centre in the UK. The telescope control system will then decide if the weather is good enough to open the enclosure, point the telescope and take the images requested. At the end of the night, or if the weather deteriorates, the enclosure will close automatically.

Operations Centre

Cardiff University is host to the UK Operations Centre for the Faulkes Telescope Project. The operations centre provides users with help and advice on using the telescopes and carrying out the educational projects. It will also monitor the use of the telescope and ensure smooth operations.

Registration Procedure

Schools pay a subsidised subscription of £160 to book up to three, half-hour observing sessions, with an additional 10 minutes of off-line time. Further details and the registration form can be found online at www.faulkes-telescope.com. Other groups, such as Astronomy Societies, Youth Clubs and Adult Learning Groups will be able to use the telescopes outside of school hours.

Users can operate the Faulkes Telescopes in two ways, the real-time mode and the off-line mode.

Real-Time Mode: Users will be able to experience controlling a large telescope and pointing it at any object currently visible in the night sky directly from their classroom. The images taken with the telescope will be returned immediately, enabling the users to see their data within minutes of telling the telescope to start the observation. Webcam images of the telescope will show users what is happening at each step.

Off-Line Mode: This mode will be used to carry out observations that do not need to be made in real time. Users will request observations of a particular object. The telescope will carry out this observation at the next available opportunity, usually within days, after which the users can download their images via the web site. This is useful for monitoring objects such as variable stars.

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh

The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh is the Scottish centre for the Faulkes Telescope Project. It is promoting the project to schools and will be offering teachers practical support to make the most of their observing time:

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh comprises the UK Astronomy Technology Centre of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Edinburgh and the ROE Visitor Centre.

Biography of Dr. M.C.Faulkes

Dr Martin C Faulkes, Founder and CEO, The Dill Faulkes Educational Trust Ltd

Dr Faulkes attributes his financial success in business to his mathematical and scientific training and is keen that young people in the UK benefit from the same studies that were freely available to him. Being concerned that many UK children perceive mathematics and science as difficult and boring Dr Faulkes established a charity in 1998; the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. The aim of this trust is to support educational programmes aimed at inspiring young people in science and maths.

Recent projects from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust include the Faulkes Telescope Project, The Faulkes Institute for Geometry at Cambridge University, The Faulkes Flying Foundation, and a computer system for the dyslexic children at Knowl Hill School in Surrey.

Dr Faulkes had a traditional grammar school education in Hinckley (where he was nicknamed Dill), followed by a Special Maths degree at Hull University and a PhD in Mathematics from London University, Queen Elizabeth College. Dr Faulkes continued in research as a post-doctoral researcher, specialising in general relativity because he wanted to work at the cutting-edge of science. After several years of post-doctoral research in the UK and Canada, Dr Faulkes left academia and began a career in computer software with Logica, after a brief spell as a trainee patent agent.

His mathematical training was ideally suited to his initial assignments at Logica as a scientific programmer where he worked on defence projects and on the design and implementation of computer networks. In 1979 he set up Logicas business in the US and as President, developed the business by focusing on international network projects for major multi-national companies; especially airlines, banks and telecommunications companies.

After five years in Manhattan, Dr Faulkes returned to London as Managing Director of software company SPL, where he worked for just over one year before selling the company to Systems Designers plc. After a year with SD plc he started his own mergers and acquisitions business with international software companies.

He invested in a number of private software companies that were subsequently floated on the UK stock market or sold privately; it was the proceeds from the flotation of software company Triad plc that enabled Dr Faulkes to establish his educational trust. Whilst he remains an active investor in small high-tech companies, he can often be found pursuing his favourite pastimes which include: cycling, skiing, climbing Munros, gliding and church bell-ringing.