Celestron Honors Future Astronomers at UCLA’s Astronomy Live! Summer Observing Workshop

In the Mathematical Sciences Building on the campus of UCLA, a large round of applause echoes through the hallways and onto the courtyard below.  Inside, six students present their final analysis on a wide array of celestial objects, including the Pinwheel Galaxy, Dumbbell Galaxy and the Ring Nebula.  What’s surprising is that these bright students are only in high school and are spending their summer break studying observational astronomy as part of of UCLA’s Astronomy Live! Summer Observing Workshop.


Astronomy Live! is an award-winning astronomy outreach program managed by graduate students from UCLA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.  Astronomy Live! just introduced a Summer Observing Workshop with six high school students participating in the first-year program.  Over the course of eight weeks, students studied the basics of observational astronomy, listened to astronomical lectures from UCLA graduate students and learned to use UCLA’s in-house telescopes donated by Celestron in November 2013.


As part of their participation in the workshop, each student was tasked with collecting data on one or more astrophysical objects, such as supernovae and galaxies.  The workshop culminated with each student presenting his or her summary of results to the class, including the scientific procedures that were followed and a research log.  While most high school students would be intimidated by a project of this size, these students were eager and very excited to share their work with the rest of the class.


Alan Vasquez, a senior at Culver City High School, presented an in-depth analysis of the galaxy M101.  As part of his scientific procedure, Alan compared different filtered images he had taken of the galaxy taken with the Lick 1-meter telescope (applying flat fields and bias frames).  He then identified the areas of the galaxy where young stars were forming in addition to calculating the inclination and distance to the galaxy. 


“The best part was being able to look through the telescopes every night and see things that I never knew were there,” Alan said.


In another impressive presentation, Nethaniel Palomino, a senior at El Segundo High School, observed the M13 globular cluster.  Nethaniel relied on Python programming to reduce his data (applying flat fields and bias frames), and then measured the flux of 500 stars in his cluster.  From there, he analyzed the data in a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and identified the high- and low-mass members of the cluster.


At the end of the presentations, students were led up to UCLA’s planetarium for one final observing session. Representatives from Celestron were on hand to award the students their very own Dobsonian-style COSMOS FirstScope telescope.  Inspired by Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the telescope features a 76 mm aperture and will be sure to guarantee the students plenty of evenings filled with sharp views of the moon, star clusters, comets and more.  Initially, many of the students were surprised and overwhelmed by receiving their new telescope, and in most cases, their first telescope.  Soon, the initial sense of shock subsided and turned into excitement, as the students were eager to begin their observing with their new telescopes. 


“This is awesome,” said Ethan Courey, a senior at Culver City High School, upon receiving the telescope.  “I’m definitely not sleeping tonight!”


Taking a step back and witnessing the joy and sense of wonder expressed on their faces, one can only believe that the future is bright for these young students.  All of them share the same goal of attending college and pursuing a career in science.  For Capistrano Valley High School senior Renee Cai, who commuted over 120 miles round trip to attend the workshop each week, the thought of becoming a future astronomer sounds like an appealing opportunity thanks to the Summer Observing Workshop from UCLA’s Astronomy Live!


“I think that astronomy is so cool”, Renee said, “I really enjoyed observing through the telescope and seeing all of the craters on the Moon.”


In the coming months, UCLA’s Astronomy Live! will have a jam-packed schedule filled with more science outreach events at neighboring schools, not to mention another Summer Observing Workshop for 2015.  The group is also gearing up for UCLA’s school-wide science fair, Exploring Your Universe, which will feature a number of fun activities and demonstrations, including planetarium shows, solar telescope viewing, comet making, weather tours and plenty more.  Exploring Your Universe will take place on Sunday, November 16 and more information has been provided in the link below.  Celestron will be sure not miss out on this exciting event and we hope that if you live in the surrounding Los Angeles area that you will come out and join us!


Thanks to Astronomy Live! for allowing Celestron to be part of the Summer Observing Workshop in its pilot year.  Celestron is proud to support Astronomy Live! and our future scientists and astronomers.  We can’t wait to meet the next bright group of students for next year’s workshop! 


For more information on UCLA’s Astronomy Live! and Exploring Your Universe 2014, please click here: http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~outreach/