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Australian Student “Thinks Big” for Imaging Contest

February 13, 2013

Figure 1. The galaxies NGC 7232B (at left), NGC7233 (top right), and NGC 7232 (right of center) are featured in the field of galaxies suggested by Ryan Soares for the Australian/Gemini Student Imaging Contest (Note: the two bright objects at center and bottom-center are foregound stars). The data were obtained in 2012 at the Gemini South telescope in Chile using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) and the color composite image produced by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage. Credit: Australian Gemini Office/Gemini Observatory/AURA.

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Figure 2. Students of Trinity College, East Perth, taking part in a "Live from Gemini" videoconference with staff from the Gemini Observatory. Photo: Pete Wheeler, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

Figure 3. Jacinta Delhaize (ICRAR PhD student), Bill Cooper (Trinity College teacher), Mehmet Alpaslan (ICRAR PhD student), Ryan Soares (contest winner, Trinity College student). Photo: Pete Wheeler, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

Figure 4. Ryan Soares (contest winner, Trinity College student) with Jacinta Delhaize (International Centre for Radio Astronomy (ICRAR) Research PhD student). Photo: Pete Wheeler, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

On Tuesday, February 12, 2013 Australian High School Senior Ryan Soares had stars in his eyes during a ceremony celebrating his winning selection for the 2012 Australian Gemini Schools Imaging contest. In describing his entry, which features a group of three beautiful galaxies, he said that he chose the grouping because the galaxies, “…had never been imaged as a group by a large professional telescope such as Gemini South.”

Ryan was also “thinking big” with this project, by suggesting that the telescope should take not one but two images and “stitch” them together to capture the panorama of the three galaxies. “I thought that if they let me do this, in future other students could propose other big, exciting regions of sky to study,” he said. This approach was challenging due to the limited time available (about one hour total) for the observations. Each of the two images required three separate filters transmitting light of different colors to make the color composite which can be seen in Figure 1.

The award ceremony, held at his school, Trinity College (high-school) at East Perth, featured a “Live from Gemini” video presentation from the Gemini North control room in Hilo Hawai‘i. During the virtual visit, students from the Trinity College Astronomy Club learned about the operation of the 8-meter Gemini telescopes, how data like Ryan’s is obtained, and asked questions about the technology and scientific discoveries made at Gemini.

Trinity College has an active program in astronomy, having both an astronomy club and a telescope of its own. Ryan has a long-standing interest in astronomy, and holds a scholarship tied to the school’s on-site telescope.

The runners-up in the competition were the Astronomy Club at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School in Ascot, Queensland, and the STAR Group at The Heights School in Modbury Heights, South Australia.

Australia is a partner in the Gemini Observatory and Australian astronomers have offered up some of the time they are allocated on the telescopes to allow the contest winners obtain images like this and inspire the next generation of scientists. The Australian Gemini Schools Imaging Contest is entering its 5th year and was first held in 2009 as part of the International Year of Astronomy.

The Australian Gemini Office is hosted by the Australian Astronomical Observatory in Sydney, a division of the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.