Young stargazers visit XMM-Newton Science Centre
30 Oct 2000Twenty-one young European students from six countries have visited the XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre at Villafranca, Spain. The 16-18 year olds were participants in the XMM-Newton "Stargazing" competition held earlier this year.
This challenging competition, allowed school classes throughout Europe to make proposals for observation time in conjunction with astrophysicists working on the XMM-Newton mission. "It will be a unique opportunity to show young people how an observatory as complex as XMM-Newton can be operated and managed in a friendly way" had explained Roger Bonnet, ESA Director of Science, when the competition was launched last February. "We will be extending the concept of backyard astronomy with one's own telescope".
The entries had all been of a very high quality - in fact nearly all the proposed targets corresponded to approved observation proposals made by the scientific community. "Their proposals covered all the important topics that XMM-Newton is, and will be investigating" says XMM-Newton project scientist Fred Jansen. "Their teachers, including a couple of amateur astronomers, had obviously communicated their passion. It's a sign of the high level of science and physics education throughout Europe".
The group of students with their teachers - in all some 30 people - were thus invited by the European Space Agency to a three-day trip to Madrid (26-29 October) including an entire day at the XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre, located at ESA's VILSPA Satellite Tracking Station on the outskirts of the capital.
They were welcomed by station director Valeriano Claros who retraced the history of the VILSPA facility, and its role in the IUE, EXOSAT, ISO and now XMM-Newton missions.
After morning presentations by the XMM-Newton Science Operations Manager Jean Clavel, by Fred Jansen and and scientist Matteo Guainazzi, the students toured the site, and in the afternoon discussed their proposals at length with the XMM-Newton science operations team.
Norbert Schartel, group leader of the XMM-Newton Mission Planing and Community Support Team, led the proceedings. "We often have school groups here, but we have never had one where everybody was so interested in the project and the science. They were very concentrated during the presentations. There were an enormous number of questions, and our discussions all had to be prolonged. "
Reaction amongst the teachers also reflected the great motivation. "We clearly see that many of the youngsters will certainly pursue this interest in astronomy " said Stephan van Dijk. "They greatly enjoyed seeing how the satellite and its instruments were controlled - and all the X-ray images it had collected". During the visit, certain students had the satisfaction of seeing the actual image data concerning proposals that they had made and which had already been obtained by the space observatory.
At the end of the workshop, the youngsters expressed their great satisfaction, with perhaps but one regret : the day had been too short ! The visit to VILSPA was rounded off by a two-day sightseeing and entertainment tour of Madrid, which was also greatly appreciated.
The competition, launched last February, was the third involving European youth, after the "What's new Mr.Galileo" essay competition, which enabled over 400 lucky winners to visit French Guiana, and the "Draw me a telescope" competition in which children designed the XMM-Newton launch logo.