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Stellar students win fantastic prizes in "Catch a Star" astronomical competition
23 maja 2008
School students and teachers across Europe and around the world are discovering today who has won fantastic prizes in "Catch a Star", the international astronomical competition run by ESO and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE).
"We were extremely impressed by the high quality of the entries, and the number of participants was even higher than last year. We wish to congratulate everybody who took part," said Douglas Pierce-Price, Education Officer at ESO.
"'Catch a Star' clearly shows astronomy's power to inspire and excite students of all ages," added Fernand Wagner, President of the EAAE.
The top prize, of a week-long trip to Chile to visit the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Paranal, was won by students Roeland Heerema, Liesbeth Schenkels, and Gerben Van Ranst from the Instituut Spijker in Hoogstraten, Belgium, together with their teacher Ann Verstralen. With their "story of aged binary stars... Live and Let Die", they take us on a vivid tour of the amazing zoo of binary stars, and the life and death of stars like our Sun.
The students show how state-of-the-art telescopes, particularly those at ESO's sites of La Silla and Paranal, help us understand these stars. They take as an illustrative example the binary star system V390 Velorum. In the last phases of its life, V390 Velorum will shed its outer shell of gas and dust, turning from a celestial chrysalis into a beautiful cosmic butterfly. The students also involved other pupils from their school, showing them how to test their eyesight by observing the binary star system of Alcor and Mizar.
But perhaps the most important discovery they made is that, as they write in their report, "Astronomy lives! Discoveries are being made each day and there is still very much to be found and learned by astronomers!"
The team will travel to Chile and visit the ESO VLT - the world's most advanced optical/infrared telescope. At Paranal, they will meet astronomers and be present during a night of observations.
Learning that they won, the team was enthusiastic: "We are very pleased to hear this fantastic news and are looking forward to the trip!"
Another winner was Marta Kotarba, with her teacher Grzegorz Sęk, from the school IV Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Tadeusza Kościuszki, Poland. Her prize is a trip to the Hispano-German Astronomical Observatory of Calar Alto in Almeria, Spain, kindly donated by the Spanish Council for Scientific Research. Marta's project "Galaxy Zoo and I" tells how she joined the website "Galaxy Zoo" to study galaxies and help astronomical researchers understand the structure of the Universe. Galaxy Zoo volunteers classify galaxies into different types, such as spiral or elliptical - a task much more easily done by humans than computers. Marta explains that the project "is like an adventure to me. Galaxy Zoo gives me abilities to enlarge my knowledge about the Universe and to gain new skills."
Her winning entry also shows how anyone can get involved in the world of real astronomical research, simply by using the Internet.
A third winner, of a trip to Königsleiten Observatory in Austria, is Andreia Nascimento with her teacher Leonor Cabral, from Escola Secundária da Cidadela in Portugal. Her project, on "Hunting for Open Star Clusters" near young stars, used data from the robotic Faulkes Telescope in Hawaii, which is used for research-based science education.
"Catch a Star" also includes an artwork competition, for which students created artwork with an astronomical theme. This competition, through which students can get involved with astronomy even outside of science classes, has become increasingly popular, with over one thousand entries this year from around the world. Not only were prizes awarded by public votes in a web gallery, but special prizes were awarded by Garry Harwood, a Fellow and life member of the International Association of Astronomy Artists.
Harwood said: "It was a real pleasure to discover such a varied and impressive collection of art from so many young people representing almost every corner of the globe. I was extremely impressed with the quality of art on display which made judging all the competition entries a difficult but thoroughly enjoyable task."
Other prizes in "Catch a Star" include astronomical software, posters of breathtaking astronomical images from ESO telescopes, and exclusive "Catch a Star" T-shirts. The full list of winners is available on the competition website.
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