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UH Astrobiology Team Members Hold Workshop for Beijing Teachers

Teachers worked with actual telescope images of Mars to plot that planet’s orbit.
Teachers worked with actual telescope images of Mars to plot that planet’s orbit. Photo by Mary Kadooka.

Last August, professional astronomers from throughout the world gathered at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly in Beijing, China. As part of the activities related to this meeting, Bin Yang, a UH NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) postdoctoral fellow, and IfA Education Specialist Mary Kadooka organized a two-day workshop at the Beijing Planetarium for about 40 middle school geography teachers from Beijing, where the geography curriculum includes a month of astronomy.

Held at the Beijing Planetarium, the program consisted of lectures and activities led by astronomers from China, Taiwan, Japan, Portugal, and the United States. The first morning, after the participants were welcomed by Jin Zhu, planetarium director, IfA astronomer and UH NAI principal investigator Karen Meech presented an introduction to astrobiology, IfA postdoctoral fellow Henry Hsieh spoke about main-belt comets, and Yang explained Kepler’s law for orbits. After lunch, Shinsuke Abe of the National Central University (NCU) in Taiwan explained the Hayabusa mission to the asteroid Itokawa and Kadooka led an activity about Kepler’s laws and the orbits of planets.

The second day featured lectures by Wing-Huen Ip (NCU) on the detection of exoplanets, by Nader Haghighipour (IfA and UH NAI) on the habitability of exoplanets, and by Biwei Jiang (Beijing Normal University) on stellar evolution. Yang led an activity about the transits of exoplanets, and Rosa Doran (Interactive Astronomy Nuclei, Portugal) led an activity about black holes.

The teachers enjoyed using actual Mars images to plot the orbit of Mars with paper and pencil. They worked with exoplanet transits to find the distance between the exoplanets and their stars using Kepler’s law of periods. They also learned about calculating the mass of a black hole using SalsaJ software, an activity of the European Union Hands On Universe curriculum, sponsored by the European Space Agency.

The lectures and related activities in English were translated into Chinese prior to and during the workshop. Yang and Donglu Chen of the Beijing Planetarium served as translators for presenters who do not speak Chinese.

Educators from Great Britain and a scientist from South Africa who is interested in outreach also attended the workshop.

The next IAU General Assembly will be held in Honolulu in August 2015. “Working with international astronomers in Beijing was helpful for planning outreach for that meeting,” Kadooka said.