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Still reaching for the stars

Published: 4 June 2020

Our Coventry Partnership co-ordinator, Dr Steve Essex has been stargazing during lockdown with some impressive results.“We have had so many clear night skies where I live that I have been able to work through the GCSE astronomy specification and coursework! We started teaching astronomy this year for the first time, which is something I have thoroughly enjoyed. However, the closing of schools has meant we have had plenty of issues covering the content! I am hoping weekly images such as the star trails image I took in my back garden here will help.

Star trail image taken by Dr Steve Essex
Star trail image taken in April by Dr Steve Essex

“This image is effectively a number of successive photos, about one a minute taken over three hours (there is 171 minutes between the first and last photo taken). I got cold at this point! Earth is rotating, and as a consequence, the stars and constellations move in the sky. You can see that each star creates an arc, with the exception of the (near) stationary star at the centre – Polaris (currently our North Star). I asked my astronomy students to use this photo to work out the length of a Sidereal day on Earth. You can have a go too!

“Taking this photo required me to make sure the camera I used was in the same place every time – I used a tripod, but you can equally rest it on a wall. I also had a remote to take the pictures, but if you don’t, you can put a small delay on your camera before it starts the photo – important so the camera isn’t shaking! Each photo here had a shutter speed of 20s, to give the camera time to collect enough light and see all the stars.”

“The night sky has been awesome in recent months. with Venus passing near the seven sisters in April, and our new obsession with spotting StarLinks satellites, the ISS and meteors. The successful SpaceX rocket launch has reignited a fascination in space exploration.

“Lockdown has given us all a chance to consider space. After all, outer-space is actually closer to me than London!

“We are trying hard as teachers, and within our Ogden partnership, to make sure students in our schools can appreciate the importance of science and the relevance of everyday physics. There are loads of science ideas out there to fill the void left by the school closures, including just staring at the night sky and appreciating how epic it is.”

A tree and the night sky taken by Dr Steve Essex.

A tree and the night sky taken by Dr Steve Essex

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