Above: The domes of the McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope 2 at Mount Stromlo Observatory. Image courtesy MSATT.

High school students in the ACT are now the envy of their peers in other parts of the country, following the opening on September 25 of an expanded teaching observatory.

The McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope 2 (MSATT 2), located at The Australian National University’s (ANU) Mount Stromlo Observatory, will enable students in years 9 to 12 to explore the universe while learning about astronomy.

MSATT 2 adds to the success of MSATT 1, completed in 2017.

Award-winning science teacher and MSATT manager, Geoff McNamara, thought of the idea of enlarging upon MSATT 2 while seeking ways to encourage his students to engage in hands-on astronomy.

“Rather than duplicating MSATT 1, we decided to build a facility which complements the original,” McNamara said.

“MSATT 2 has a larger aperture telescope, to counter the ever-increasing light pollution in Canberra.”

The MSATT telescopes are housed in two purpose-built domes at Mount Stromlo Observatory.

“The brilliant thing is, no experience with astronomy or telescopes is necessary to operate the equipment. Any student from the ACT region can apply for telescope time,” McNamara said.

“The telescopes have so far performed almost flawlessly and are in constant demand.”

Students also have access to volunteer mentors who can help them analyse and report their findings; the mentor roles are largely filled by graduate students from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA).

“It’s a pleasure for ANU to be able to help high school students get hands-on experience doing astronomy,” said RSAA Director, Professor Matthew Colless.

“We hope it will lead to more students undertaking science courses in high school and university.”

MSATT 1 and 2 were largely funded by scientist Dr Denis Saunders and his wife Vee, with RSAA providing the site and assisting with construction and operations.

MSATT is a collaboration between donors, ANU and the ACT Education Directorate.