The sky has special meaning for many people, from the astronomer seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe, to indigenous peoples who look to the stars for guidance in daily life. Astronomy is a fascinating field of study that attracts many students with an interest in math, science (especially physics) or computer science. Meet the people who study the stars, and learn why astronomy is important to them. Hear from some of the astronomers working in today’s observatories, and learn more about what they do.
The sky has special meaning for many people, from the astronomer seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe, to indigenous peoples who look to the stars for guidance in daily life. Astronomy is a fascinating field of study that attracts many students with an interest in math, science (especially physics) or computer science. Meet the people who study the stars, and learn why astronomy is important to them. Hear from some of the astronomers working in today’s observatories, and learn more about what they do.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Raylee Stathakis is an astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and was once a guide-lecturer at Sydney Observatory in Australia. For her doctoral thesis she studied the remains of the star that exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud in February 1987.

Raylee Stathakis is an astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and was once a guide-lecturer at Sydney Observatory in Australia. For her doctoral thesis she studied the remains of the star that exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud in February 1987.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Dr. Raylee Stathakis

Dr. Raylee Stathakis.

Zoltan Nemes-Nemeth

© Powerhouse Museum


Video of Dr. Raylee Stathakis discussing her work as an astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, Siding Spring, New South Wales, Australia.

The AAT (Anglo-Australian Telescope) is situated in the beautiful Warrumbungles. With a mirror nearly four metres wide, it is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world and the largest in Australia. Astronomers from Britain, Australia and many other countries come to observe at our telescope. Being an astronomer today is very different from being an astronomer in Henry Russell’s time. We no longer have to stand in the cold dome and put our eye to the eye piece. We sit in front of computers in an air-conditioned room off to one side and we let detectors far more sensitive than the human eye pick up the light from the objects we’re observing. We’re able to get much more than just pictures of the objects, we’re able to do things like split the light into its colours and form a spectrum, which tells us much more about the object.

Zoltan Nemes-Nemeth

© Powerhouse Museum


Dr. Wendy Freedman is director of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California. She grew up in Ontario, Canada, and studied physics and astronomy at university. She also studied in the United States and has used some of the biggest and best telescopes in the world, like the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on top of the extinct volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Now she gets to use one of the most incredible telescopes of all-the Hubble Space Telescope.

One of Dr. Freedman’s interests is measuring the Hubble constant, which is the rate at which the universe is expanding. Knowing this rate of expansion will help us figure out the exact age of the universe.

"I was always interested in astronomy as a kid. Growing up in Northern Ontario, it was the dark sky that really got me fascinated with astronomy in the first place. It’s a particularly exciting time in astronomy now because we’re learning things about the universe that we never anticipated-new mysteries are surfacing. It’s a very exciting field.

I’m doing something that I love to do, and that would be my advice to anyone: find something that you love to do and p Read More
Dr. Wendy Freedman is director of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California. She grew up in Ontario, Canada, and studied physics and astronomy at university. She also studied in the United States and has used some of the biggest and best telescopes in the world, like the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on top of the extinct volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Now she gets to use one of the most incredible telescopes of all-the Hubble Space Telescope.

One of Dr. Freedman’s interests is measuring the Hubble constant, which is the rate at which the universe is expanding. Knowing this rate of expansion will help us figure out the exact age of the universe.

"I was always interested in astronomy as a kid. Growing up in Northern Ontario, it was the dark sky that really got me fascinated with astronomy in the first place. It’s a particularly exciting time in astronomy now because we’re learning things about the universe that we never anticipated-new mysteries are surfacing. It’s a very exciting field.

I’m doing something that I love to do, and that would be my advice to anyone: find something that you love to do and pursue it, because there’s really nothing more rewarding."

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Dr. Wendy Freedman

Dr. Wendy Freedman.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Dr. Ian Shelton was raised in Winnipeg, Canada. In 1987, while he was working at an observatory in Las Companas, Chile, he developed a photograph of the Tarantula Nebula and saw something unusual in the picture. He and several others went outside to check, and they saw a shining light in the Large Magellanic Cloud (the galaxy that encompasses the Tarantula Nebula) that wasn’t there before. It was a supernova-a giant star that blew itself apart at the end of its life.

Dr Shelton’s discovery was the first supernova visible to the naked eye in almost 200 years. It was called "SuperNova 1987A Shelton," and for the several months that it lasted, it was among the most studied phenomena in the night sky.

"Growing up in Winnipeg, we had lots of dark sky-it was always in your face, and I was curious about it. Then we got a small telescope as a gift from an aunt. With that telescope, I got my first view of Saturn. That got me hooked, and it just snowballed from there.

"I like studying the oldest objects in the universe. I do this by looking at individual stars and things that are close by. Stars seem to be real places-you c Read More
Dr. Ian Shelton was raised in Winnipeg, Canada. In 1987, while he was working at an observatory in Las Companas, Chile, he developed a photograph of the Tarantula Nebula and saw something unusual in the picture. He and several others went outside to check, and they saw a shining light in the Large Magellanic Cloud (the galaxy that encompasses the Tarantula Nebula) that wasn’t there before. It was a supernova-a giant star that blew itself apart at the end of its life.

Dr Shelton’s discovery was the first supernova visible to the naked eye in almost 200 years. It was called "SuperNova 1987A Shelton," and for the several months that it lasted, it was among the most studied phenomena in the night sky.

"Growing up in Winnipeg, we had lots of dark sky-it was always in your face, and I was curious about it. Then we got a small telescope as a gift from an aunt. With that telescope, I got my first view of Saturn. That got me hooked, and it just snowballed from there.

"I like studying the oldest objects in the universe. I do this by looking at individual stars and things that are close by. Stars seem to be real places-you can put a name to them and everybody can see them.

"My advice to anyone who is curious about astronomy is to start with a good pair of binoculars. They’ll give you far more detail than if you spent the same amount of money on a telescope."

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Supernova 1987A

Dr. Ian Shelton discovered Supernova 1987A, located in the large Magellanic Cloud.

NASA

© NASA


It takes a big team to run the eight-metre Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. Visit the control room of Gemini North, where you’ll meet the people who run the telescope and learn what they do.

It takes a big team to run the eight-metre Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. Visit the control room of Gemini North, where you’ll meet the people who run the telescope and learn what they do.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network 2003

Flash Video

This is a quick time VR movie in which you can move around within.

Flash Movie

The image above shows the Gemini North Sea-Level Control Room in Hilo Hawaii. This is a quick time VR movie in which you can move around within.

Several of the people in the scene are also linked and if you click on them you will go to a short interview and learn what they do and how Gemini operates./n/nClick to go to a short interview and learn what they do and how Gemini operates.

Isobel Hook
My name is Isobel Hook. And I am an astronomer from the United Kingdom visiting Hawaii for about a year to learn as much as I can on the Gemini telescopes. The reason for being here is to work with one of the instruments which is built in the United Kingdom and in Canada. This is the first optical instrument to be put on the Gemini telescopes and it works like a giant digital camera. The sensitivity of this instrument combined with the superb sharp images that the telescope produces and the excellent observing conditions on Mauna Kea allow astronomers to see far more details on distant objects that was possible ever before.

John Hamilton
Hi, I am John Hamilton one of the systems support associate here at Gemini Observatory. My main job at night is to operate the facility and the telescope in a manner such as the astronomer can collect the best possible data. One of the ways we do this, is each night we have to tune the primary mirror. At Gemini, the primary mirror is eight metres in diameter but compared to other telescopes it is very thin and flexible. Mounted behind the primary mirror are hydraulic actuators which can actually bend the primary mirror in very small sized steps. This effect sharpens the image of the star. When this is all done, we are ready to start observations for the night. It is then that the astronomers tells me what objects that they would like to go to and off we go.

Dolores
I am Dolores. I am a system support associate. I run the telescope on behalf of the astronomers and the engineers and I also prepare the telescope for night time operations. I do a safety walk around the telescope and then I open up the shutters. And when all of that is done I go into the Control Room and I start the night time observations. I ask the astronomers where they want to point the telescope they give the coordinates, I put those coordinates into the software and the telescope points at that part of the sky. And when that is done, we collect the data and we give that data to the astronomers to take away with them. I also do all the scheduling for all the system support associates and when there is time left, I do a little bit of science as well. My favourite science is star forming regions because it is really great fun to look at stars that are just being born.

Colin Aspin
Hi my name is Colin Aspin. I am a Gemini Scientist. I work here in Hawaii at the Gemini North Operation Center. I assist many of the visiting Astronomers who come to our Island to use our telescope. They come from all over the world and arrive knowing not very much about how we operate our systems. I look after them and make sure they get the best possible data from the telescope.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


(DAO)

Hear about the building of the telescope.

Video

Almost as soon as the telescope had recorded its first spectrogram astronomers at DAO began establishing research landmarks. A comprehensive survey of pairs of stars in orbit around each other vastly expanded our knowledge of their sizes, temperatures and masses through study of their gravitational effects on each other. Discovery of the most massive binary star, and the most massive star known. Determination of the size and mass of the Milky Way galaxy, the beautiful system of stars, dust and gas which is home to our very own star, the sun, and its planets. Revelation of the two hundred and twenty million year orbit we follow above the center of the galaxy. Demonstration that matter is widely distributed between the stars, a fact that made us reconsider the true size of the galaxy. Discovery of the first molecules in interstellar space, including organic molecules that are central to life, and measurement of the temperature of inter-stellar space, warmed by heat left over from the birth of the universe some fifteen billion years ago.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network 2003


Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory

"I’m currently in my final year of a bachelor of science degree (astronomy and astrophysics) at Macquarie University. My main interests are black holes, active galactic nuclei (including quasars), gravitational lensing and cosmology-the study of the birth and evolution of the universe. I hope to have a career in astrophysics working at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, after the completion of my PhD."

"Working at the Observatory has been great for me, as it has put me in contact with many people with similar interests as well as professional astronomers. I get to work with lots of people and talk to them about my favourite subject-the universe."
Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory

"I’m currently in my final year of a bachelor of science degree (astronomy and astrophysics) at Macquarie University. My main interests are black holes, active galactic nuclei (including quasars), gravitational lensing and cosmology-the study of the birth and evolution of the universe. I hope to have a career in astrophysics working at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, after the completion of my PhD."

"Working at the Observatory has been great for me, as it has put me in contact with many people with similar interests as well as professional astronomers. I get to work with lots of people and talk to them about my favourite subject-the universe."

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Richard Lane

Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory.

Powerhouse Museum

Sydney, AUSTRALIA
© Powerhouse Museum


Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory

"I am currently completing a masters degree in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of New South Wales. My main area of research relates to planetary nebulae-old stars that have shed their outer layers. I have also researched comets and comet impacts, including the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in July 1994. I especially enjoy astrophotography and like nothing better than to venture out under the stars with a few friends and photograph the night sky."

"I love working at the Observatory as astronomy is an exciting and ever-changing subject, and I really enjoy bringing the wonders of the night sky to interested people."
Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory

"I am currently completing a masters degree in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of New South Wales. My main area of research relates to planetary nebulae-old stars that have shed their outer layers. I have also researched comets and comet impacts, including the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in July 1994. I especially enjoy astrophotography and like nothing better than to venture out under the stars with a few friends and photograph the night sky."

"I love working at the Observatory as astronomy is an exciting and ever-changing subject, and I really enjoy bringing the wonders of the night sky to interested people."

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Melissa Hulbert

Astronomy student and Guide at Sydney Observatory Melissa Hulbert.

Powerhouse Museum

Sydney, AUSTRALIA
© Powerhouse Museum


Astronomer, former Guide at Sydney Observatory and Young Australian of the Year 1999

"I first got interested in astronomy by looking at the planets and constellations through a small telescope. During the time I worked at the Observatory, the thing I enjoyed most was showing other people the same things that got me into astronomy all those years ago."

"My main job as an astronomer today is to make observations of distant objects and then to use these observations to understand more about how the universe works. In particular, my goals are to understand the huge explosions produced when stars die, and to study the collapsed cinders left behind. To make my measurements and observations, I use telescopes in Parkes and Narrabri, in Chile and in the USA, and even telescopes up in space."
Astronomer, former Guide at Sydney Observatory and Young Australian of the Year 1999

"I first got interested in astronomy by looking at the planets and constellations through a small telescope. During the time I worked at the Observatory, the thing I enjoyed most was showing other people the same things that got me into astronomy all those years ago."

"My main job as an astronomer today is to make observations of distant objects and then to use these observations to understand more about how the universe works. In particular, my goals are to understand the huge explosions produced when stars die, and to study the collapsed cinders left behind. To make my measurements and observations, I use telescopes in Parkes and Narrabri, in Chile and in the USA, and even telescopes up in space."

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Bryan Gaensler

Astronomer, former Guide at Sydney Observatory and Young Australian of the Year 1999, Bryan Gaensler.

Powerhouse Museum

Sydney, AUSTRALIA
© Powerhouse Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Identify a range of astronomy careers
  • Describe the activities of astronomy students and professionals

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