The University Record, April 16, 1996

Astronomers get kids interested with Image of the Month

By Kahli Randall
News and Information Services

Omega Centauri appears as merely a group of dots of white light when viewed directly through a telescope. But as an enhanced television image, the largest globular star cluster in the galaxy becomes flecks of red, bursts of yellow and green, and a bright blue and white light. Through the evolution of technology, these kinds of television images can be captured with the help of a telescope on a mountain in Chile.

Thanks to a program created by U-M astronomers, high school students in Michigan don't have to visit Chile to get a peek at Omega Centauri. They can simply open their Image of the Month package for a full-color glimpse of astronomical phenomena.

This creative teaching tool is a package of monthly mailings of "Images" of astronomical objects to high school teachers throughout the state. Its editor and chief writer, Emeritus Prof. Richard Teske, says that "the goal is not to create more astronomers; there are enough already."

Instead, he and his colleagues believe that "high schools have made an inadequate provision for fostering an interest in astronomy. It is our expectation that 'Image of the Month' will bring them a little closer to astronomy as it is currently practiced."

The mailings include an 8 inch by 11 inch color photograph of a celestial object, a brief discussion about it, and sources where more information can be found. The idea of using the pictures was that they would "generate excitement that teachers could use as a hook to grab students' attention," explains astronomy Prof. Douglas Richstone. Richstone originated the program with the help of Hugh Aller, chair of the Department of Astronomy.

Most of the pictures have been taken by U-M faculty with the University's telescope, operated in Tucson, Ariz., in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College. They range from pictures of "The Orion Nebula" to pictures of "The Largest Globular Star Cluster in the Galaxy."

The discussion captions are written by Teske. Many of the mailings also include a profile of a U-M professor who writes "Why I became an astronomer."

Lists of magazine articles, books, Internet access and star charts accompany the pictures. The program also has its own home page and Internet address (http://www.astro.lsa.umich.edu/users/iotm/) where students and teachers can seek answers to astronomical questions.

According to Teske, "Image of the Month" has generated attention from more than just high school students. In the last several months, first-time requests for "Image of the Month" mailings have been received from more than 40 teachers across the state.