The Shared Skies program lets universities in the northern and southern hemispheres bring the entire sky to their students and to local schools.
Geography creates a challenge for every astronomy program. A university’s observatory can only observe the local sky. That’s why universities build the major observatories in the northern and southern hemispheres - it gives them access to the entire Universe. But those big telescopes are so oversubscribed that undergraduate and graduate research rarely passes the review by the allocation committees. Small research telescopes at the university’s observatory meet the needs better, but the students lose access to half of the sky. Researchers at the United States’ University of Louisville and Australia’s University of Southern Queensland created the Shared Skies program to solve that problem. Fast Internet connections and robotic telescope technology lets researchers and students share the two universities’ observatories.
Their observatories host remote-controlled small research telescopes linked to high-bandwidth Internet2 connections. The most recent addition to the Mount Kent Observatory in Australia, the 700-millimeter Planewaves Instruments CDK700 telescope, is based on technology developed by the amateur-professional Alt-Az Initiative.
The universities extended the Shared Skies program to local primary and secondary schools. Fourteen hours separate Louisville and Toowomba. That lets teachers and students conduct their observations during the school day while its night in the other hemisphere. Local astronomers help the classes develop their research plans. Then the classes speak with astronomers at the other university over video conference to coordinate the observations. As students progress from astronomy demonstrations to active exploration, they build the skills they need to conduct research in astrometry, photometry, and spectroscopy using professional-grade tools.
Read more about the Shared Skies program:
Kielkopf, J. F., and B. D. Carter. "A Digital Science Partnership for Southern Skies in the Classroom." Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. Vol. 37. 2005.