ELTHAM College opens new observatory

Throughout history, humankind has been drawn to look up to the stars and wonder why. With the opening of a new observatory, students at ELTHAM College are being given exciting learning opportunities, as they look to the stars and beyond.

Celebrated in literature, song and artworks, the beautiful and terrifying immenseness that is space has captivated scientists, farmers, philosophers and artists alike.

ELTHAM College committed to an observatory in the early 1980s, with teaching staff regularly conducting ‘star nights’ at the school. Unfortunately, the observatory was significantly damaged by storms in 2011, and the repairs that were undertaken were unsuccessful. With the decision made in 2018 to redevelop the College Observatory, the College was poised to further embrace the marvellous opportunities that looking upwards afforded. From Chemistry to Physics, Mathematics to Poetry, the learning experiences are both rich and varied.

There is currently unprecedented interest and enthusiasm for astronomical endeavour, with the creation of an Australian Space Agency in June 2018 and ongoing focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education. Australia has for a long time played a significant role in multiple fields of astronomy research. What an amazing time it is to be a budding astronomer in this country – especially for students at ELTHAM College.

Construction work on the building commenced over the 2018 summer break, with work also scheduled to upgrade facilities like the Library Auditorium to support further learning in this area. While the building was to be reimagined, the College also embraced advancements in telescope technology. To this end the College installed a research-grade, fully automated, 17-inch telescope, with the support of our community.

The advancement in technology that has occurred since the early 1980s is such that telescopes can be accessed remotely and programmed ahead of time. Images and data can then be analysed and viewed at a later stage. While we still plan to be able to physically put our eye to a lens, this technology provides far more flexibility and accessibility for students.

It was a perfectly clear and crisp evening when the ELTHAM College Observatory was officially opened in May 2019. The event was the culmination of a crowdfunding ‘Giving Day’, which raised $204,296 for the new observatory and its technologically advanced telescope.

We applaud all those who contributed to our Giving Day, from the individuals and associations that made pledges before the day, to the over 200 families, individuals and businesses who took part. The Observatory Opening was a wonderful celebration of community endeavour and a commitment to providing daring adventures
for young people.

Dr Megan Clark, CEO of the Australian Space Agency, officially declared the ELTHAM College Observatory open, with guests from the Astronomical Society of Victoria sharing their expertise regarding the night sky. Darren Smith, Head of Mathematical and Scientific Thinking, eloquently spoke of the amazing opportunities this technologically advanced facility will enable, while pondering the capacity of humankind to explore the immense nature of the universe.

In his speech, Mr Smith said, “It is wondrous. It inspires wonder. It is wonderful. It fills us with wonder. And it also inspires us to wonder: To wonder how? Wonder why? To wonder what is actually out there in the seeming ‘emptiness’ of space that surrounds our tiny blue planet? What are those faint pinpricks of light? What is between them? Beyond them? Curiosity is a defining
human characteristic.”

He said our capacity to wonder about the nature of our surroundings has driven our species’ development and helped shape who we are.

ELTHAM College Observatory

“As we stand here this evening it is not so hard to imagine our earliest human ancestors huddling together around the warming glow of their latest technological innovation, looking up into their night sky, gazing at the stars overhead and just wondering,” Mr Smith continued.

“And now we huddle here together around
our latest technological innovation, looking up at our night skies, at those same stars and constellations, wondering.

“And ultimately this is why we rebuilt our observatory. To give our young people the opportunity to look up at their night sky and wonder. To give them the means to see further, to observe more, to be curious, to find their answers to their hows, whys and whats. And to imagine.”

ELTHAM College looks forward to seeing how this aspirational undertaking will help its young people access amazing opportunities. There is so much rich and varied learning potential to be found through the observatory, facilitating adventurous exploration in the STEAM arena, captivating our imagination and challenging our intellect.

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