Space to Grow, an Australian Student Astronomy Program

Space to Grow lets Australian teachers and their students use research-class robotic telescopes to study the Universe and conduct research with professional astronomers. 

Astronomers at Macquarie University developed Space to Grow to encourage teachers in New South Wales to use real astronomy data in their science classes. Workshops help teachers implement the course material in the classroom. As a member of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, teachers and their students may access the 2-meter Faulkes Telescopes in Australia and Hawaii. The program is part of a larger effort to measure the impact that research-based education has on students’ interest in science and their academic careers. 

The astronomers and education researchers behind the project published an Astronomy Education Review article, “Space to Grow: and Improving Science Engagement in Schools” (Danaia, L et al), describing early results of their project in the journal. The initial surveys show that both teachers and students benefit, but the program does more than reinforce classroom lessons. Students get the chance to work with professional astronomers on real research. Ten students from Sydney Girls High School helped observe a poorly-studied planetary nebula. The students created color composites of the nebula using images from the Faulkes Telescope North. They also constructed light curves of the nebula’s central star system using archival data from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer space telescope and several sky surveys. The peer-reviewed paper describing the research was published by the Astronomical Society of Australia:

Frew, David J., et al. "K 1-6: an asymmetric planetary nebula with a binary central star." Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia 28.01 (2011): 83-94. (or the arXiv preprint