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.

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.


Pupils looking through telescope

Caption: Children at the Glasgow Science Centre enjoying a first look through one of 1000 free telescopes set to be delivered to UK schools.

Image: International Year of Astronomy 2009 - UK


Dr Helen Walker

President, Society for Popular Astronomy

c/o Space Data, Space Science and Technology Department

STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory



Oxfordshire OX11 0QX

Tel: +44 (0)1235 446490

Mob: +44 (0)7870 977 018



Professor Ian Robson

UK Chair, IYA 2009

UK Astronomy Technology Centre

Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Blackford Hill

Edinburgh EH9 3HJ

Tel: +44 (0)131 668 8264

Mob: +44 (0)7919 398 610



Steve Owens

UK Co-ordinator, IYA 2009

c/o Glasgow Science Centre

50 Pacific Quay

Glasgow G51 1EA

Tel: +44 (0)141 420 5010 x.299

Mob: +44 (0)787 905 8120



Professor Andy Fabian

President, Royal Astronomical Society

Burlington House


London W1J 0BQ

Tel: +44 (0)1223 337509



Joe Winters

Press Officer

Institute of Physics

Tel: +44 (0)20 7470 4815

Mob: +44 (0)7946 321 473



Julia Maddock

Senior Press Officer


Polaris House

North Star Avenue


Tel: +44 (0)1793 442094

Mob: +44 (0)7901 514 975




The Telescopes for Schools project aims to deliver 1000 telescopes to schools across the UK. Schools will receive the telescope, a DVD which explains how to use it and what to look at, plus other material. There will be interviews with enthusiastic astronomers and support materials for teachers on the DVD. The schools are encouraged to find a local astronomer to help them use the telescope, but if the school does not know any local astronomers, the SPA has undertaken to try and find one from the communities of amateur and professional astronomers.

Schools are able to apply for the telescopes through the SPA website

Queries should be sent to

The telescopes supplied are 70-mm refractors, meaning they collect light using a lens 70 mm across. This will let pupils see craters on the Moon, the rings of Saturn and the satellites of Jupiter. They should also get a good view of the brighter clouds of gas and dust (nebulae), star clusters and even other galaxies.


The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture. It is intended to stimulate worldwide interest not only in astronomy, but in science in general, with a particular slant towards young people.IYA 2009 will mark the 400th anniversary of the monumental leap forward that followed Galileo Galilei’s first use of the telescope for astronomical observations. In the UK the chair of IYA2009 is Professor Ian Robson, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, and the co-ordinator for IYA 2009 activities is Steve Owens, also a UKATC employee.

IYA 2009: UK home page


The Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), founded in 1953, is one of the UK’s leading national astronomical societies, bringing together stargazers of all ages, from eight to over eighty. It has nine special interest sections and a dedicated section for young stargazers. It holds regular meetings and activities (including weekend courses), publishes magazines and newsletters, and circulates an electronic news bulletin to alert amateur astronomers to new astronomical phenomena such as comets and supernovae.

SPA home page


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

RAS home page


The Institute of Physics (IoP) is a scientific membership organisation devoted to increasing the understanding and application of physics. It has an extensive worldwide membership (currently around 34000) and is a leading communicator of physics with all audiences from specialists through government to the general public. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in scientific publishing and the electronic dissemination of physics.

IoP home page


The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships. The Council has a programme of public engagement to inspire students, teachers and the public with UK science.

STFC has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Science, It gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

STFC is a partner in the UK space programme, coordinated by the British National Space Centre.

STFC home page