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TOPS 2003

by Mary Kadooka

IfA astronomer Bo Reipurth, at the UH 2.2-meter telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, used the IfA video link to show TOPS participants in the IfA Manoa auditorium what it is like to observe on a telescope. He explained the necessary steps, from opening the telescope dome to calibrating frames of real objects, to choosing appropriate filters and proper exposure times for images of different objects. These skills will help Hawaii teachers use the new Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala, which is scheduled to become operational by the end of this year.

The TOPS (Towards Other Planetary Systems) teacher enhancement program held its final summer workshops in 2003. The purpose of TOPS has been to instruct math and science teachers about how to incorporate astronomy into their curricula. The primary goal of the June workshop, held on Oahu, was to equip the participants with the necessary skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm to mentor students undertaking astronomy projects during the 2003-4 school year. Because this workshop was aimed at consolidating skills acquired in previous years, all but one of the 16 participants were TOPS alumni.

Those at the workshop certainly had a great incentive to achieve its goal: the Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala. Scheduled to become operational by the end of 2003, it will be one of a pair of the largest telescopes in the world dedicated to education and outreach (see Na Kilo Hoku no. 2, fall 2001), and will be available to teachers and students in Hawaii.

TOPS participants Victor Kim, Sharon Price, Jeff Giacobetti, Marsha Needham (hidden), and TOPS staff member Catherine Garland work on extrasolar planets and Mars dust storm research projects.

The TOPS program loaned participants laptop computers loaded with astronomy software. They learned how to observe with a large telescope, to measure the positions and motions of celestial objects and the light emanating from them, and to analyze the data they obtain. During the school year, the laptops will be used to teach astronomy and for student projects.

TOPS participants who teach middle school focused on basic projects, such as looking for dust storms on Mars or calculating the rotation period of Jupiter using the Great Red Spot. More advanced projects included studying the light transit of an extrasolar planet, recovering a Kuiper Belt object by refining the calculation of its orbit, and determining the light curves of variable stars.

Teachers at a TOPS workshop on Maui used colored beads to demonstrate how colors look different under ultraviolet light. They practiced many hands-on activities suitable for students at all grade levels.

Besides learning to mentor student projects, the TOPS teachers honed their skills for planning and executing workshops for other teachers. This will give the TOPS program a significant multiplier effect. The TOPS teachers traveled to Maui to present a teacher workshop. Topics covered included archeoastronomy, light and spectroscopy, celestial navigation, cratering, and the expanding universe. They also treated the Maui teachers to a planetarium show in the Institute's Victoria Ward, Limited Starlab portable planetarium.

The primary instructors for the Hawaii workshop included TOPS director Karen Meech, Timothy Slater and Janelle Bailey of the University of Arizona, Janet Mattei (the director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers), IfA graduate students Catherine Garland and Henry Hsieh, IfA postdoctoral fellow Jana Pittichová, TOPS staff member Mary Kadooka, Mike Mattei, and Jim Bedient, an avid amateur astronomer in Hawaii who has helped with TOPS for three years. Other IfA faculty and staff also took part in the program on Oahu and Maui.

In addition to the workshop in Hawaii, several of the TOPS leaders directed a workshop on Pohnpei at the end of July. Fourteen returning TOPS teachers from Micronesia, as well as 13 additional teachers from Pohnpei and Kosrae, attended. The teachers received Dobsonian telescopes with mirrors ground by TOPS participants during previous summers, and they learned how to use them after properly aligning the mirrors. They also were given green lasers to be used as pointers for stargazing parties. Several of these teachers have started astronomy clubs and classes.

In Hawaii, enthusiastic TOPS teachers have already met with students who are beginning preliminary work on projects during the summer. Also, Meech has procured funding to send the teachers to the meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in September 2003. They will be sharing their project ideas and attending an extrasolar planet workshop.

More exciting results will definitely be forthcoming during the next school year. TOPS meetings and Maui workshops are being planned to continue the TOPS initiative. This should lead to exemplary student astronomy projects to be entered in science fairs. Other IfA astronomers have already volunteered to help with this effort.

TOPS instructor/photographer Tim Slater from the University of Arizona.

Photos courtesy of TOPS.