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Mapping the skies with a new teaching telescope at Mt Stromlo

Mt Stromlo observatory dome
The telescope is housed on the site that was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires.

ABC News: Elise Scott

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A new teaching telescope at Mt Stromlo Observatory will provide school students with a hands-on experience learning about astronomy.

High school students across Canberra will have access to the telescope in an effort to increase interest in science.

The project is the brainchild of Melrose High School science teacher Geoff McNamara, and has been made possible with the support of private donors Dr Denis and Vee Saunders, the ANU and the ACT Education Directorate.

The so-called McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope (MSATT) includes a high-end 30cm robotic telescope housed in a dome and a range of smaller telescopes.

He said students would be able to measure the mass of planets, as well as investigate properties of the stars.

"It's not about what they're going to be able to see, it's about what they will be able to measure.

"Three students for instance have just finished a project observing the planet Venus, and in particular exactly when it is half-phased a bit like a first-quarter moon.

"We've got projects that line up with stars that vary in brightness.

"Another student will soon be making observations of eclipses of one of Jupiter's moons in order to determine the mass of Jupiter and also measure the speed of light."

Science teacher Geoff McNamara
Geoff McNamara says the telescope allows students to take ownership of the data they collect.

Supplied: ANU Media

Mr McNamara said the telescope would allow students from years nine to 12 to undertake lengthy research projects.

"They gather their own data and they have to analyse it and then produce a formal refereed report."

The MSATT is also the first operating optical telescope in a dome at Mt Stromlo since the other telescopes were destroyed in the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

It will be made available for one-off sessions for small groups of up to 10 people, community groups and special interest science groups.

"This will give the students the experience of struggling with equipment, with all weather conditions when they're trying to get data, rather than just simply downloading stuff off the net.

"They can take ownership of the data that they've collected.

"It's a much more authentic approach to teaching science."