Reid Middle School Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos Online Exhibition

Feb 2017–

Reid Middle Schoolers used the Smithsonian-Harvard Astrophysical Observatory’s robotic telescopes to take images of the cosmos. Students in Matt Warrington's 6th grade STEM class and 7th and 8th graders in art teacher Jessica Karr's digital art class compared how the human eye and the telescopes capture images. The students used robotic telescopes to explore the universe and requested images of those areas they "captured." They colorized their own images of stars and galaxies in the same way professional astronomers do, and wrote poetry inspired by images captured by the Hubble Telescope. As a capstone project, the students created watercolor and acrylic paintings for an on-line exhibit that were inspired by the images they captured through the robotic telescopes. This on-line exhibition shows the students at work on their paintings and all the paintings that were created the students.

This program engages youth audience in accessing SAO's MicroObservatory robotic telescopes, to take and colorize their own images of stars and galaxies the same way that professional astronomers do. Participating Affiliate organizations such as Springfield Museum of Art collaborate in learning how to run public workshops that result in digital or physical exhibitions of original youth-created astrophotography displays. These images and displays can be featured not only at the participating institutions, but also on Smithsonian websites.

This program is in the third stage of its inception which has generated a partnership with the National Science Foundation and Affiliate organizations which is new to this educational initiative. Our Smithsonian Affiliate partners have created a community of learners in online discussions and webinars to learn how to control the MicroObservatory telescopes to request images of planets, galaxies, and nebulae, all from their own computers, and sharing their experiences with one another. By opening a web browser, one can select the telescope targets and exposure time, and the images will be taken that evening and emailed the next day.

Using the software tools from the MicroObservatory participants enhance these photos, sharpen and refine the view of their object. Participants used filters to create unique colorful interpretations or real-color images and compared student-based images to those from Smithsonian and NASA ground and space-based telescopes. Affiliate partners in the program helped visitors and youth audiences take their own photos of astronomical objects and to create displays or exhibits to show and share with the public.

This program offers the opportunity for our Affiliate organizations to obtain an implementation fund to support the program in their communities. This project is a collaboration of scientists and educators at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA) in collaboration with Smithsonian Affiliations, with funding from the Smithsonian Institution's Youth Access Program.