University of Calgary

Thousands of school children wowed by Rothney telescope tours

UToday HomeMarch 27, 2013

By Jennifer Allford

Thousands of school children wowed by Rothney telescope toursThe University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is home to cutting-edge research as well as educational opportunities for some 3,000 school students each year. Photo courtesy Rothney Astrophysical ObservatoryEvery year, as many as 3,000 students from around southern Alberta visit the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO), just south of Calgary, to look through a telescope to examine objects far out in space — and see science up close and personal.

The students, in grades six, eight and nine, tour the RAO’s multi-faceted, multimedia centre, which is equipped with a computer-controlled telescope with imaging detectors, a solar filtered telescope and the 1.8-metre A. R. Cross Telescope — one of the biggest telescopes in Canada.

Jennifer Howse, the education program specialist with the RAO, says she hears a lot of “wows!” as the students see distant objects in space. “When kids look through a telescope and see an object in the sky, it’s a real thing, it’s not a video, it’s not something somebody is telling them about, they’re actually having that real experience,” she says.

Every year a different graduate student from the Department of Physics and Astronomy shares their research with the student groups. This year, Julia Pulwucki, who studies black holes, discussed how she applies her knowledge of computer programming, geometry and astrophysics to examine the connection between the shape of plant leaves and the shape of black holes.

“Every year we have a little bit of a different twist for students,” says Howse. “They actually get to meet somebody who is applying all these really big complex concepts that they’re learning in the classroom.”

The RAO educational programs are aligned with the curriculum the students are covering in science class.

“The kids had some wonderful experiences at the observatory that we could not have had in the classroom,” says Shelly Rizzo, a grade eight teacher from Edison School in Okotoks. “We saw lots of cool technology, experienced hands on events with telescopes and computers, and the 3-D aspects they see with respect the solar system is way better that I can show them on paper.”

When the RAO is not toured by inquisitive students, the cutting-edge equipment on site is used by the University of Calgary’s undergraduate, graduate, and academic community for advanced astrophysical research.

The RAO also opens its doors — and telescopes — for general public viewing events several times a year. The next one is a drop-in observing night on Thursday, March 28, 8:30-10:30 p.m. followed by the RAO open house Saturday, April 20 from 8 to 11 p.m.

For more information concerning the RAO, visit:


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