Catch a Star!

... and discover all its secrets!


  • This competition is closed. Find out more about ESO's current educational material and activities on our education pages!

Catch a Star! 2003 is over

This educational programme is now over and the jury has announced the winners . The information below is therefore for the record only.

It is planned to organise another Catch a Star! programme in 2004. Information about this will appear here in due time.


Is it possible to catch a star? No, because stars are very distant, very hot and very large celestial bodies.

But there is another way to do this. You can 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 the Orion Nebula and write a report about this object.

That is the aim of...

The "Catch a Star!" Project

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

Following the great success of Catch a Star! in 2002 , the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) now again 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) - 2003 .

Play cosmic detective - how?

Like detectives or a task force group, groups up to four persons (e.g., three students and one teacher) should first select an astronomical object and then try 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.

Technical details

The groups have to produce a short summarising report (in HTML format; with images and text in English) about this investigation and the object should then be sent to ESO Garching. All reports receive a quality number, with the possibility to win fascinating prizes.

A jury of specialists from ESO and EAAE will carefully evaluate these reports, and 20 international winners will be declared.

Fascinating Prizes

The First Prize is a free trip in early 2004 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.

Domes of the VLT

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.

ESO headquarters in Munich

The Third Prize is a free trip for the members of the group to the Wendelstein observatory (**). This is one of the best sites for observing the Sun and it has a fantastic view over the Alps.

wendelstein Wendelstein Observatory and the Alps

Several additional prizes will be given (one prize per winning team), including:

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

A wonderful final event

During the European Week of Science and Technology, on November 10th, 2003, beginning at 14:45 hrs CES (13:45 UT) , the winners of the prizes will be announced at a brief ceremony taking place at the "Physics on Stage 3" festival event (at ESTEC-ESA, Noordwijk, The Netherlands). The outcome will be displayed right thereafter on the dedicated webpage - and a video of the ceremony will become available on the same webpage later.

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

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 primary or secondary school in Europe (*) on November 1, 2003.

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.

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. Make an observation with your own instrument, or describe the method of such an observation, or 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 description or 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 English and 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. The report should be easily readable even in printed form, so avoid for example to write text on a dark background.

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. Try to make it interesting, clear and original.
  3. You sent your report to It must arrive there not later than on October 30, 2003 (at 12:00 Universal Time) . Please note the submission guidelines!

The first 1000 Official Participants will also receive a "Catch a Star!"-T-Shirt by mail.

(*) Because of ESO's special relationship with the Republic of Chile (the host country of the ESO observatories), teachers and students from this country are also welcome to participate.

(**) Please note that the three trips to Paranal, Garching and Wendelstein will be realised in any case, but because of age restrictions, they can only be offered to groups in which all participants are 15 years of age or older .