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IT taps into citizen science with youth astronomy initiative in Pampilhosa da Serra

by IT on 21-10-2020

IT researchers tested a new astronomy concept for the first time in Portugal, together with a group of students in Pampilhosa da Serra.

Researchers at IT in Aveiro, Domingos Barbosa and Bruno Coelho, partnered with the Municipality of Pampilhosa da Serra, in Coimbra, to launch “Ciber-Cosmos: o céu à distância de um clique”, a two-week astronomy workshop designed for secondary school students.

The initiative, carried out in August, allowed students to learn from science and technology experts and to acquire basic astronomy skills using the Unistellar eVscope — a smart, compact and user-friendly digital telescope that offers unprecedented opportunities for deep-sky observation.

“This is probably the first continuous application of this equipment in a pedagogical and citizen-science context, in a pandemic context, and it is something agencies are currently betting on”, Domingos Barbosa explained.

“Instead of having a network of half a dozen very large telescopes, they take advantage of these small instruments now scattered around the world, many of which are operated by amateur stargazers. When they all come together, they can provide valuable information, at a very low cost, but with a big impact”.

Presented at Web Summit 2019, the eVscope features an integrated Wi-Fi system that connects to mobile devices within a 50-meter radius, allowing users to remotely operate the telescope and download the images through an app on their smartphones and tablets — especially useful at a time of social distancing.

Unlike conventional telescopes, the eVscope delivers clear images of galaxies, nebulae, comets and other objects in crisp and colourful detail, thanks to its digital sensor and advanced processing software.

Bruno Coelho, who coordinated the students’ work, said: “They were all very excited about the telescope. As soon as they received the images live on their smartphones, they wanted to share them with friends and relatives”.

In partnership with the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) in California, Unistellar allows users to join a citizen-science community, where anyone can contribute to astronomical discoveries by sharing their images in real-time with scientific observation campaigns.

Pampilhosa da Serra, a certified Dark Sky Reserve, was the chosen location for this project as its territory has “the best skies in the country to observe the stars and the universe”, according to the IT researchers.

Photo: A group of three students at Penedos de Fajão, Pampilhosa da Serra, observe the Milky Way and, in the lower right corner, a satellite (intermittent line).