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Denny High pupils reach for the stars in OU Tenerife trip

Denny High School pupils at the OU's telescope on Tenerife with the OU's Dr Alan Cayless

Ten Denny High pupils recently saw galaxies and planets up close at The Open University’s (OU) observatory on the island of Tenerife. 

The S2 and S3 pupils, all members of the Denny High Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) club, were invited to visit the OU’s observatory by Dr Alan Cayless. 

The pupils have been helping Dr Cayless, an astronomer and tutor at the OU, develop a new, open access astronomy course.

Over the past year, the pupils have been testing bespoke software that will let people around the world order the OU's Completely Autonomous Service Telescope (COAST) telescope on Tenerife to take pictures of deep space. 

As well as visiting the OU’s telescopes at the Tenerife Observatory, the pupils made friends with teenagers from a local high school and visited the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos, a science museum in the north of the island.

The pupils raised money for their trip by organising a series of events, including a community stargazing event and a Christmas Fair. 

The STEM club pupils summed up their experiences by writing: ‘Going to Tenerife was such an awesome opportunity, we met pupils from a Spanish School and toured the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) before going up to see COAST. 

“Actually seeing where COAST is and watching it do its work was amazing and it proved to us that we could do astronomy as a job in the future!”

Dr Alan Cayless said: “Our new, open access online course involves using the telescope and working with the images, and it was important to get this right. 

“We are fortunate to have good links with local schools and we are very grateful to the STEM class at Denny High.

"After all the hard work they put into helping develop the course, it seemed fitting to invite them to visit The Open University’s telescopes in Tenerife and see them in person." 

The observatory visit began with a close-up introduction to the COAST telescope that the school had been using to take pictures of distant galaxies.

After a spectacular sunset, the pupils settled down for an evening of stargazing in one of the world’s best dark sky areas and they also had the opportunity to view the Moon through a small telescope.

The pupils also visited some of the larger facilities at the observatory, to learn about the work of professional astronomers.

Kathryn Sharp, the teacher who runs the Denny High STEM club, said: “Trips like this bring science to life for our pupils, which is so important.

"Being able to visit one of the world’s most impressive telescopes, and meet a team of astronomers with a real passion for the night sky was really inspiring for the pupils. 

“STEM is a real focus for us at Denny High School and we’re constantly seeking new partnerships and collaborations to show our pupils where STEM subjects can take them. In this case it’s infinity and beyond!” 

Dr Cayless intends to have the new, Denny High-approved open access course available in the autumn, and to set up a subscription access to the telescope software so that more people can direct the telescope to the object of their choice.

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