• LOCATION 2 | Highlights from the Virtual Solar System Drive with Fred Watson

    Fred Watson

    [Marnie] - Keep going, straight ahead, past the clock tower.

    I mentioned to you, our Terranauts, at the beginning that we would have a real-life, astronomer guiding you along the Virtual Solar System drive, and now I'd like to introduce you to him.

    Hi Fred

    - Hi Marnie - Hi Terranauts!

    [Marnie] Fred, you were the Astronomer in charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory. What does that actually mean? What did you do there?

    - Well, it basically means I made sure everything was working properly at two telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory, the UK Schmidt Telescope and the Anglo Australian Telescopes. Astronomers come from all around the world to use these telescopes, and study the universe and would be unhappy if they didn't work.

    [Marnie] What is the normal daily routine for an astronomer when they are at Siding Spring?

    - Like possums, Astronomers spend the day sleeping. About 2 o'clock they get up, have breakfast, look at the weather for the night ahead, and start planning their activities. They'll check on the telescope to make sure that everything is working well, have lunch about 6pm and then head over to the telescope where they'll spend hours looking at a computer screen and the data being collected by the telescope.

    [Marnie] You mean, astronomers don't look through the telescope?

    - No, those days are long gone. We ran out of the things to discover through telescopes a few hundred years ago. Astronomers now use highly technical pieces of equipment that are far more effective than the human eye in gathering data. With a spectroscope, instruments that break light up into rainbows, we can look at the technical composition of a planet, not only in our solar system but in the solar system of another galaxy! And with cameras 100 times more powerful than the one in your mobile phone, we can gather light from star systems thousands of light-years away.

    [Marnie] What other equipment do space scientists use these days to gather information about our solar system and beyond?

    - We live in a world of spacecraft and space robotics that allow us to investigate other planetary bodies. It is simply astounding how much we've come to know about our nearby neighbour Mars, for example, due to the robots that have landed on the planet and explored the rocks, the soil, and the weather. Since the 1970s, scientists have been sending spacecraft to Mars. Several different types of spacecraft have been sent to the Red Planet over the years, and they all have different specialities. One type, called orbiters, travel around Mars, taking pictures as they zoom across the planet. Another spacecraft called landers provide photos and information from their landing spots on the surface of Mars.

    [Marnie] Keep going straight.

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Highlights from the Virtual Solar System Drive with Fred Watson