Astronomical education through online exercises: virtual night sky tours and live streaming
Matti Gehlen, Tobias Hoffmann, Theresa Ott, Noa Wassermann, Athleen Rietze, Esther Drolshagen, Gerhard Drolshagen, Jutta Kunz-Drolshagen, Thorsten Plaggenborg, Björn Poppe
Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany
Astronomy is a very complicated topic to start with. A few observatories offer guided tours but those are usually only in larger cities and don’t teach the techniques of astronomy. There is a lot of experience needed when using telescopes and computer-controlled observatories. Most of it can only be achieved by working with such equipment. However, the costs of a telescope and other equipment is relatively high, so starting out with astronomy must be a well-considered decision. At the University of Oldenburg, the lecture “Introduction to Astrophysics” was developed as a course of the professionalization area. Initially, it was planned for 20 to 30 students. The interest increased every year, so that it now attracts between 200 and 300 students from a wide variety of courses. To encourage students to start with astronomy and to provide more information about it, we have set up a number of exercises for further education in addition to the lecture. First, the so-called virtual sky tour is presented. This is intended to teach students how to navigate in the night sky with just a few exercises. In addition to the lecture, one or two constellations that can be found in sky at the time are presented every week. There is also a brief description of the constellation and how to find it in the sky. In the exercises, the students should then search for and mark the constellations and their distinctive stars on photos. All of this is maintained on a website so that the program can be reached at any time. Thus, with the help of exercises and articles on the respective constellations, a sense of orientation in the night sky is built up over a whole semester. We also host live broadcasts showing astronomical events and the basic work with a telescope. The prerequisite for this is that the observatory can be controlled remotely by computer. At the University of Oldenburg, we have a large dome (about 3m in diameter) as well as a smaller one. The large dome can be rotated and inside it is a 0.41m Ritchey-Chrétien telescope (MPC code: G01). The smaller one has a simple shutter mechanism and houses a 0.15m Newton telescope. In order to control both observatories, the software KStars/Ekos is used. For the live broadcast, the screen is then shared with the students in a video conference and the images are commented on and explained. As part of the bachelor thesis, we have made a first attempt and brought the solar eclipse of June 10th, 2021 to all interested participants via video live stream. Despite a spontaneous announcement, around 80 spectators came together. It is important that practical exercises exist aside the theory of the lecture. In this way, students can be shown the work on the telescope directly and interest in internships in the field of “observing astronomy” can be developed further.