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Dutch high school students operate Australian telescope from Drenthe

This Friday 28 May, 22 high school students from the Emelwerda College , Emmeloord, the Netherlands, visit ASTRON to do observations with the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. The students have the chance to be an astronomer for the day in the educational programme “PULSE@Parkes” , developed by the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) institute, ASTRON’s sister organisation in Australia.

Published by the editorial team, 27 May 2010

Extremely heavy stars

In PULSE@Parkes, students observe radio pulsars: extremely small and heavy stars, that remain after the death of a normal star in a supernova explosion. To observe these specific pulsar signals, one big dish works better than multiple dishes, such as the dishes of the Westerbork telescope or ASTRON’s new LOFAR telescope. The Parkes telescope in Australia, with a dish of 64 metres big, is therefore one of the best instruments in the world to catch these specific signals.

By stimulating high school students to observe pulsars, a valuable archive of pulsar observations is being made, and this has already resulted in a first scientific publication. Beside this, the programme also allows young people to use a worldclass telescope and experience what it is to be an astronomer.


PULSE@Parkes is very successful in Australia. Over thirty schools have already participated in the programme. This is the first time a Dutch school is participating. The students choose which pulsar they want to observe and they operate the telescope themselves. A videolink allows them to be in direct contact with the control room of the Parkes telescope in Australia, where radio astronomer George Hobbs (CASS) assists the observations.




Click here for a higher resolution picture of the Parkes telescope. 

International collaboration

With this initiative, ASTRON hopes to interest high school students for science in general and in (radio) astronomy specifically. The many possibilities astronomy has for educational purposes, are also discussed during a big astronomy conference to be held from 9 to 16 June this summer in Drenthe, the Netherlands: the International SKA Forum 2010. During this conference, which is organised by ASTRON and NWO (the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research), scientists and engineers from all over the world discuss the next generation radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The way the building of a new telescope influences young people, the scientists of the future, is also an important topic of discussion.


Mike Garrett, director of ASTRON, says: “”This is a great opportunity for Dutch high school students to get their hands on one of the biggest telescopes on the planet and will give them a taste of the crucial role international collaboration plays in almost all scientific disciplines today but especially astronomy”.”


“A PULSE@Parkes session at ASTRON gives these students the great opportunity to experience science and use a gigantic telescope at the other side of the world”, says Robert Hollow (CASS). “It shows the fantastic possibilities in the near future for international collaboration between students with telescopes such as the SKA.”

This programme is organised and supervised by radio astronomers of ASTRON, and the initiators of PULSE@Parkes: Robert Hollow of CASS and David Champion of the Max-Planck-Instituut for Radio astronomy in Bonn, Germany. You can follow the observing session on Twitter via @PULSEatParkes


For more information please contact:

Marijke Haverkorn, astronomer, ASTRON. Tel.: + 31 (0)521 595 708. E-mail:

Femke Boekhorst, PR & Communication, ASTRON. Tel.: + 31 (0)521 595 204 and+ 31 (0)6 21 23 42 43. E-mail:

Photo: CSIRO 64-m Parkes radiotelescoop. David McClenaghan, CSIRO

Twitter: follow the observations on Friday 28 May via @PULSEatParkes

More about the PULSE@Parkes programme:

Programme Friday28 May 2010:

09:30 – 10:00 hrs: Arrival at ASTRON in Dwingeloo and welcome
10:30 – 11:30 hrs: Introduction and explanation by Robert Hollow (CASS)
11:30 – 12:00 hrs: Lunch at ASTRON
12:00 – 14:00 hrs: Observing with the Parkes telescope en data processing
14:00 – 14:15 hrs: Finish



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