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For media interviews contact
Rebecca Scott,
Senior Media Officer,
University of Melbourne
Mobile 0417164791

For more information about the
Telescopes in Schools Program
contact Jacinta den Besten
Mobile 0425704916

A unique secondary school outreach program by the University of Melbourne is helping students, teachers and parents to watch the Transit of Venus today and learn more about the universe.

The program, Telescopes in Schools, run by the University’s Astrophysics Group in the School of Physics is providing telescopes for three years in schools across Western and Northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Head of the Astronomy Group at the University of Melbourne, Professor Rachel Webster said Australia is considered to be one of the optimal places to observe the astronomical event.

 “For anyone to be able to watch this incredible event through a research grade telescope is a once in a life time opportunity.

Venus will start to move across the Sun (ingress) at 8:15am and will finish it’s transit (egress) at 2:45pm in Melbourne.

“The Transit of Venus last occurred in 2004 and the next one will be in 2117, so for many it is a once in a life-time event.”

“These students will be able to learn more about the universe and the solar system through watching this historic event. We hope the Telescopes in Schools Program will inspire a whole new generation of astronomers,” she said.

The program involves several nighttime training sessions for all connected to the school including parents to be able to use the telescope. Students are then able to use the telescopes to look at a variety of stellar objects such as stars and gas clouds like the Large Magellanic cloud.

Administrator for Telescopes in Schools Project, Jacinta den Besten said these sessions are well attended

“There is much excitement during these sessions about what the students, parents and teachers are able to see and learn about,” she said.

Currently five telescopes have been installed into schools in the Western and Northern suburbs of Melbourne with another five to be installed in schools before the end of the school year.

Today, students from Pascoe Vale Girls College will view the Transit of Venus from 8am – 2pm through a 12 inch research grade Meade telescope. Students from Years 7-12 will be put into small groups to take turns at viewing the event whilst wearing protective glasses. They will also record the event with other viewing devices.

Despite Venus passing between the Earth and the Sun every 1.6 years, the transits occur in pairs of eight years, which are separated by over 100 years. This arises due to the orientation of Venus’ orbit, so Venus usually passes above or below the Sun from the Earth’s perspective.

Professor Webster said the history of the Transit is quite remarkable. “Scientist Professor Edmond Halley (of the Comet fame) predicted the next one to transit in 1761 and that it would provide a method to measure the size of the Solar System, but unfortunately he would not be alive to see it,” she said.

“Bad weather meant it wasn’t until 1769 until the transit would be viewed. The Endeavour, with Captain James Cook, set out to observe the transit in Tahiti on 3 June 1769. The remainder of his voyage went onto discover Australia and New Zealand.”

“These are incredible parts of Australia’s history and the Transit of Venus is an astronomical event which should be enjoyed by all. This program is helping to make that happen,” she said.