School Students set to Discover Exploding Stars in Distant Galaxies
On the afternoon of Wednesday 25th June, around 400 students from all over Britain will gather in the famous Faraday Lecture theatre of the Royal Institution, London at the culmination of a true adventure in scientific discovery. After several weeks spent searching for exploding stars in distant galaxies, they will come together to learn something new about the Universe.
The main aim of the project, entitled "Excitement of Science", is to discover exploding stars, called Novae, in a distant galaxy (in this case one named Messier 81, in the constellation of Ursa Major - the Great Bear). They are using observations gathered specifically for them by professional astronomers using large telescopes on the island of La Palma in the Canaries.
Novae are caused by runaway thermonuclear explosions on the surface of exotic stars called white dwarfs. In such a system, the white dwarf itself is sucking material off a close companion star to act as the fuel. At outburst, a nova is up to 100,000 times more luminous than the Sun and ejects up to 100 times the mass of the Earth at speeds of 1000's of kilometres per second into the space around it. In our own Milky Way Galaxy, we discover about 3 novae of this type per year. We think there are many more, but these go undiscovered, partly because dust clouds in the disk of our Galaxy obscure our view.
If we observe other galaxies, we can however potentially discover and follow many more novae, but we need large telescopes with sophisticated detectors to do that. This is precisely what this project is doing, but making school students central to the discovery.
On Wednesday, we will gather together the results of the school searches and analyse them "live". As well as finding the novae, we will endeavour to use the results to find the distance to M81 which is a stepping stone to determining the scale of the Universe.
The event will be live webcast at: www.excitement-of-science.org (from 11.00 a.m., with the astronomy project beginning at 1.30 p.m.)
It is being organised by Rotary International, Liverpool John Moores University, the National Schools' Observatory*, and the Royal Institution.
Further information can be obtained from:
Dr Andrew Newsam, National Schools' Observatory (firstname.lastname@example.org, 0151 231 2905)
Prof Michael Bode, Liverpool John Moores University (email@example.com, 0151 231 2920, mobile 07968 442360)
and the website www.excitement-of-science.org.
Caption: The large spiral galaxy Messier 81 in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear) in which school students are hunting for the tell-tale signs of the explosions of novae. The image is a composite of three separate images in different colours taken with the telescopes of the Isaac Newton Group, La Palma specifically for this project.
A copy of the above image, at high resolution, is at:
* The NSO is a major web-based educational resource giving schools direct access to some of the most sophisticated astronomical telescopes in the World (see www.schoolsobservatory.org.uk).