A very busy, informative and exciting week of presentations and conferences culminated with an informal planning session exploring questions for future consideration, next steps, and potential next conferences.
The primary focus of the final two days was "The Research Seminar", which in the many variations that were presented involves students (from middle school up to college, including adults) in learning the basics of astronomy and remote telescope operation, using the remote telescope system robotically to gather astrometric data on binary star systems, and then using the data and analysis to produce a publishable paper to submit to a recognized journal, typically the Journal of Double Star Observations. Binary star observations are chosen as the target for the program because the data reduction and analysis are relatively simple, but in principle this program could be extended (and plans are being made to do so) to variable star photometry, spectroscopy, asteroid light curve analysis, and more.
The original concept for this originated with Russ Genet, from California Polytechnic University, and has achieved its most complete realization in the San Diego area under the auspices of Boyce-Astro, a non-profit foundation dedicated to enhancing astronomy education (this should sound familiar to those of us at NKAF!). Under the leadership of Genet and Boyce-Astro, the Research Seminar, making use of the iTelescope robotic network, has resulted in the publication of over 70 student-written science papers. Very exciting, and a potential direction for us, couple with work at the elementary level to introduce younger students to the amazing world of astronomy!
Of course, one of the major challenges we experience here at NKAF and NSO in Peacham is the large number of cloudy days compared to San Diego. We have a wonderful research telescope and great viewing when clouds don't interfere, but it seems pretty advisable for us to become affiliated with a network of telescopes so that our students will have the ability not only to use NSO, but also other telescopes on the network that have more consistently clear skies. By joining our telescope into one of these networks, we gain the ability to make use of the entire network - NSO provides an entry into this world that otherwise would require a subscription! We will be examining various options for this as we continue to explore ways to accomplish our educational mission!