Students create heavenly views using Gemini data

08-Jun-2015

An innovative program offered by the Gemini Observatory enables high school science students to participate in virtual field trips with working astronomers and delve into treasure troves of data. One outcome — beautiful illustrations of the known universe.

​​​​​Another demonstration of the power of technology to break down the four walls of a standard classroom happened this year in Naidah Gamurot's science class at Kapolei High.

Kapolei was one of two DOE schools that joined the Live From Gemini program, which takes audiences on virtual field trips to a Gemini Observatory control room where participants experience real science in a genuine observatory environment. One of the first exercises was to use data from the observatory to create views of the universe that would be "understandable" to non-astronomers.

While the images the students created are captivating, Gamurot noted it's really all about data. "The colors have meanings, and it is the meanings of the colors and what they tell us about the universe that is our focus — it is the information that the colors convey. For example, reds indicate light from cooler stars. Blues indicate light from hot, massive stars."

Students crafted the images using two software programs: FITS Liberator and Adobe Photoshop.

"The Gemini telescopes are designed to detect and measure light that are eyes cannot see. The FITS Liberator takes that data that comes from the telescope and translates it into an image that our eyes can see and our minds can understand," said Karen Umeda, a DOE resource teacher for technology integration. "Until now, it has been difficult for anyone other than a trained astronomer to create images like these from the telescope data. Once the images are processed by the FITS Liberator, Photoshop is used to enhance and colorize them."

Kapolei's program included lessons with Dr. Travis Rector of the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Adam Smith, science operations specialist at Gemini's North Base Facility on Mauna Kea. They talked about translating telescope data from Saturn and one of Jupiter's moons, Io. (View Gemini blog post with excerpts from the virtual field trip.)

The students were "blown away" by the opportunity to interact with and learn from real astronomers in the field. They peppered them with questions, from asking about the outcomes of these projects and community impact, to specific questions about the applications being used, to questions about astronomy as a career.

With the first Live From Gemini exchange under their belt, Umeda said Kapolei is poised to do three to four videoconferences with Gemini next year along with Waiakea High School. Student exchange of learning between the two schools and an in-person trip to the observatory are also part of the project goals.

About Live From​​ Gemini

The Live From Gemini programs are approximately 45 minutes long and include time for a live Q&A session. In addition, programs can be customized in content areas that include:

  • The electromagnetic spectrum
  • Wavefront optics (adaptive and active optics)
  • Telescopes as time-machines
  • Concepts in modern astronomy such as planetary system formation
  • Galactic evolution, stellar evolution, cosmology
  • Spectroscopy & Imaging instruments and techniques
  • Other topics on request
Programs can be scheduled at any time of the day, but require a minimum of two weeks advance booking.

Live From Gemini requires a compatible videoconferencing system, which was supported for Kapolei High and Waiakea High by science and technology specialists in the Department's Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support. Schools that are interested in the program can learn more here. Contact program manager Peter Michaud at pmichaud@gemini.edu to schedule a program.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232

Email: doe_info@hawaiidoe.org

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