Catch a Star!

... and discover all its secrets!


NB! This programme has been concluded and the information below is for the record only. Please direct any further questions to the jury by email via:

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) welcome all students in Europe's schools to this exciting web-based programme with a competition . It takes place within the context of the EC-sponsored European Week of Science and Technology (EWST) - 2002 .

What is "Catch a Star!"?

This unique project revolves around a web-based competition and is centred on astronomy. It is specifically conceived to stimulate the interest of young people in various aspects of this well-known field of science, but will also be of interest to the broad public.

Groups of up to four persons (e.g., three students and one teacher) have to select an astronomical object - a bright star, a distant galaxy, a beautiful comet, a planet or a moon in the solar system, or some other celestial body.

Like detectives, they must then endeavour to find as much information as possible about "their" object. This information may be about the position and visibility in the sky, the physical and chemical characteristics, particular historical aspects, related mythology and sky lore, etc.

A short summarising report (in HTML format; with images and text) about this investigation and the object should then be sent to ESO. A jury, consisting of specialists from ESO and the EAAE, will carefully evaluate these reports. All projects that are found to fullfil the stipulated requirements (see below!) will receive a lottery number and the first 1000 participants will get a "Catch a Star!" T-Shirt by mail. All accepted entries will be displayed at the corresponding website.

At the end of the European Week of Science and Technology, on November 8th, 2002, beginning at 13:00 hrs CES (12:00 UT) , the prizes will be drawn by lottery among the participating groups. This event will be broadcast by webcast and the outcome will be displayed via a dedicated webpage - details to be announced later.

Please read the instructions carefully, before you start up your own Catch a Star! project!

The Prizes

Here is what you can win by participating in this programme!

The First Prize is a free trip in early 2003 for the members of the group to the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile, the site of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) (*). Here you will meet some of the ESO astronomers and be present during a night of observations at one of the world's most advanced optical telescopes.

The Second Prize is a free trip for the members of the group to the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Bavaria, Germany) . Also here you will meet ESO astronomers and have an opportunity to learn more about front-line astronomy. Visits to some other interesting sites in the Munich area will also be arranged.

The Third Prize is a free trip for the members of the group to the Königsleiten observatory and planetarium in the Austrian Alps. This is one of the best sites for observing the sky from the European continent.

Several additional prizes will be drawn, including:

  • 4 sets of the new ESO CD-ROM , published in October 2002 (each member of the four winning groups will receive a personal copy of the CD-ROM and there will also be one for the libraries at their respective schools).
  • 4 Sets of the new ESO book , published in September 2002 (one book to each member of the winning groups and one to the school libraries)
  • 4 Sets of the new ESO Video , released in November 2002 (one to each member of the winning groups and one to the school libraries)
  • 4 Sets of ESO posters (each winning group will receive one full set of 10 posters and four other full sets will be given to the school libraries)

The school with most accepted entries will win a special (surprise!) prize , to be announced at the end of the drawing.

All members of winning groups will also receive a personal certificate .

More prizes may become available between now and November 8.

(*) The Paranal trip will be realised in any case, but because of age restrictions, it can only be offered to a group in which all participants are 15 years of age or older at the time of the drawing.

Who can participate in this programme?

You may participate in this programme, if you are

  • a group of up to three students and one teacher , and
  • you all belong to a school in Europe on November 1, 2002.

This means that only students who have not yet terminated their school studies on this date can participate. No student may participate in more than one group.

How to join?

This is what you and your group has to do in order to participate:

  • First you "catch" an astronomical object you want to find out more about. Be sure to check the Registered Projects' webpage , to see if this object has already been chosen. If three other groups in your own country have chosen that object , you must select another one. In other words, no more than three groups in one country may work on the same object. (Note, however, that in order to facilitate participation for younger students, this rule will not be enforced for groups of students in primary schools).
  • In order to register officially the participation of a group, one of its members must then write an email to Be sure to mention the name of the chosen object, the names of all the members of your group, the ages of the students, name and address of your school (with city and country) and your email-address.

Upon receipt of this information, your group, together with your object, will be displayed on the Registered Projects' webpage. You will also receive confirmation via email.

The first groups have already registered - why don't you follow them?!

How to "discover" your object? - What must you and your group then do?

Now starts the real work!

The goal is to collect information about "your" object from different sources and to write an interesting report . Not only will you learn a lot by doing so - if your report is accepted, it will also be displayed at the official "Catch a Star!" website with your names and addresses, next to all the other reports from all over Europe. Your group will have a chance to win the First Prize! There will also be special prizes to the three schools with the largest number of accepted reports!

This is what you will have to do and think about:

  1. Collect information about "your" object in books, journals, webpages, historical documents etc.
    It is important that you mention all these sources of information in your report (the "citations").
    You may try to find information about:
    • What was your object's past and what will be its future ?
    • Its main characteristics , for instance its colour, temperature, chemical composition, etc.
    • How did the scientists obtain that information - which observations did they perform? How sure are they about what they say about the object?
  2. Get images of your object - at least in one of these two possible ways:
    • By observing it with a telescope (could be either visually and making a drawing from what you see, with a photographic camera or with a CCD)
    • From an astronomical database (may be on the web, on a CD-ROM, in a book, etc.)
  3. Create a short, practical exercise that may be used in the school and which is based on some of the information you have gathered in Task 1 above. Perhaps your exercise, or at least the idea behind it, may later be taken over at many other schools in the world!
  4. Compare your object with another one of the same class (planet, moon, comet, star, galaxy, etc.) and explain the differences and/or the similarities.
  5. When you are ready, you and your group should write a report (in HTML, so that it can later be shown on the web - preferably not longer than about 10 A4 pages) and send it in electronic format (also the images) to It is recommended that the images be directly linked from the main file.

Please contact, if you have any questions. The organisers will do their best to help, but it may take a little time before you receive an answer!

How to win? - Here are the rules

You and your group will be registered as official participants in "Catch a Star!" and will have a chance to win one of the prizes, once you have fulfilled the following three requirements:

  1. Your group has done the five tasks outlined above and your report is reasonably correct in scientific terms (the jury members will judge this).
  2. You did your own work. This means that it will not be enough just to copy texts from scientific articles etc. This is why you have to mention the sources you have used by citing them in your report. You may use quotes from the articles etc. you read, but you must also arrive at your own conclusions and add your own ideas to the report.
  3. You sent your report to It must arrive there not later than on Nov 1st, 2002 (at 12:00 Universal Time) .

When everything is in order, your project will get a lottery number . The first 1000 registered participants will also receive a "Catch a Star!"-T-Shirt by mail.

The prizes will be drawn during an official lottery that will take place at the ESO Headquarters (Garching, Germany) on Friday, Nov 8th, 2002, beginning at 13:00 hrs CET (12:00 UT) during a closing event for the "Catch a Star!" programme. It will be webcast live , so that everybody can immediately learn if they have won.