Night sky

Expanding minds in an expanding Universe

Discoveries by researchers in LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute frequently hit the headlines, but the same sophisticated technology underpinning this research is also used by thousands of schoolchildren, motivating and inspiring pupils of all ages and abilities. The National Schools’ Observatory is a unique derivative of the Liverpool Telescope; it provides schools with free access to a front-rank research facility and quality data for experimentation in the classroom.

The Liverpool Telescope is the world’s largest fully-robotic telescope. Not only does it produce high quality astronomical data for science research programmes around the world, it also supports the learning of thousands of primary and secondary-level schoolchildren. The National Schools’ Observatory (NSO) is a free, web-based resource provided to more than 4,000 teachers and their classes with several ways in which they can engage with astronomy and space science. Both the NSO and the Liverpool Telescope are operated by the Astrophysics Research Institute at LJMU.

The telescope is located on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain) and ten percent of its observation time is dedicated to the NSO, with the rest for world-leading research. Schools in the UK and Ireland currently request around 1,500 astronomical observations a month allowing pupils aged 8 to 18 to take their own images of planets, stars and galaxies and analyse them.

[It] gave me a real insight into physics and made me decide on what I wanted to do at degree level. Now I will be studying a Physics and Astronomy degree.

Simon - a 17-year-old school pupil

University researchers also provide opportunities for students to participate in cutting-edge research, making observations that contribute to diverse areas including cataclysmic exploding stars such as supernovae and gamma-ray bursts; students actively hunt for novae in galaxies and search for new exoplanets.

The NSO also produces a wide selection of support materials for science teachers and teachers wanting to use astronomy and space science to support the teaching of other subjects including mathematics, IT and design and technology. Furthermore, NSO staff provide face-to-face support, work placements, talks, workshops and other events to improve curriculum teaching and inspire students. During 2012/13, over 200 hours of school activities and teacher development sessions were delivered, benefitting more than 10,000 pupils and teachers.

Not only has the NSO supported the provision of GSCE Astronomy in schools, advice from NSO staff resulted in the controlled assessment of the GCSE Astronomy being redesigned to enable students to use robotic telescopes. Access to the Liverpool Telescope extends the range of objects available to GCSE astronomers (e.g. distant galaxies) as well as the detail with which familiar objects such as the moon can be explored.

Find out more about the research and outreach projects of the Astrophysics Research Institute.

The Liverpool Telescope is owned and operated by LJMU with financial support provided by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

[The National Schools Observatory] gives us a powerful platform from which to proceed with inspiring students in science through astronomy.

Sarah - a schoolteacher (school anonymised; quote provided during an independent evaluation of the NSO)

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