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The students, from Sydney Girls High, are part of the ‘Space to Grow' program, which uses astronomy to engage and retain senior high-school students in science. "Space to Grow brings together teachers, kids and astronomers, and puts professional telescopes and tools into the kids’ hands,” said the program’s Director, Professor Quentin Parker of Macquarie University and the Australian Astronomical Observatory.
The girls used Faulkes Telescope North , Hawaii, to study a ghostly cloud of gas in space.
"Our starting point was a faint smudge on two old photographic plates," said Dr David Frew, a Research Fellow from Macquarie University who is part of the project team and the first author on the paper co-written with the students.
"We thought this object, called K1-6, might be a ‘planetary nebula' - a star coming to the end of its life that's shedding gas into the space around it. The research was aimed at confirming that," he said.
The students made a colour image from the Faulkes telescope data and searched online databases for other observations made by different telescopes at infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray and radio wavelengths. They confirmed that the object was indeed a planetary nebula, and also found that the central star was very unusual with two, or possibly three stars in the centre, according to Jeff Stanger, the student's science teacher at Sydney Girls High who was also involved in the project.
Space to Grow is a three-year ARC Linkage Industry Grant education project administered by Macquarie University and with partners Charles Sturt University, The Catholic Schools Offices of Parramatta and Bathurst, the NSW Dept of Education (Western Region), and LCOGT (who operate the Faulkes Telescope North and is providing access for students from Australia, UK and Hawaii to its sizeable telescopes).
-- Many thanks to Dr Frew for sending us this press release, and congratulations to the students at Sydney Girls High.
You can read the abstract of the publication on the PASA website or you can download a free pre-print version of the paper from the ArXiv pre-print service.
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