Santa Sabina Dominican College

Dunsink Observatory Visit

Senior Cycle Physics
Dunsink Observatory Visit

On the 16th of December 2022, the fifth and sixth year physics class went on a trip to Dunsink observatory. When we arrived we met our guides Sadhbh Leahy and Camille Stock. They were really nice and were very helpful in answering any questions that we had.

To start the tour, Sadhbh and Camille brought us to the South Telescope which was separate from the observatory. They started by telling us a bit about the background of the telescope. When using the telescope, the roof opens up so you can see the sky. They let a volunteer open up the roof and take the big lens protector off the telescope. They also showed us how the telescope rotates with the earth so that they can observe the sky over long periods of time without losing what they were looking at because the Earth had rotated.

After that, we went inside the observatory and into a room that belonged to Sir William Rowan Hamilton, an Irish mathematician, astronomer and physicist, who lived in Dunsink from 1827 until his death in 1865. Lots of his stuff was on display, such as his telescope and his desk. We learned about Hamilton in Transition Year so it was really interesting to see where he lived.

The next room we went into was all about eclipses. There was an Eclipse Mirror that was used during a total solar eclipse in Sobral, Brazil in 1919 to prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This eclipse mirror took the photo that made Einstein famous.

We were then given a presentation by Sadhbh and Camille about telescopes and observing the sky. First we were shown just how diverse telescopes are from your more known space telescopes such as the Hubble telescope that observes visible light, to radio telescopes that observe radio waves from stars. We were shown a diagram of a standard telescope that is made with lenses, compared to one made with concave mirrors. In this diagram we were able to recognise that this was like the optics we did in class. It was interesting to see exactly how this information is applied in the real world.

It was not all sitting and listening though. We were given a task to reflect the light from a green laser to hit a target using as many mirrors as possible. The mirrors were the same shape (though smaller in size) as the mirrors used for the Hubble telescope. The activity was fun and not too challenging. The best approach would be to have the mirrors (held up by the students) in a zigzag pattern close to each other as we discovered that the light from the laser was growing in size and becoming more distorted the more mirrors we reflected it on. We succeeded in hitting the bullseye with 7 mirrors to the tune of Christmas jingles.

Finally, Sadhbh and Camille shared their own experiences that led them down this path. Sadhbh is currently the communications director of Dunsink and Camille has a PhD in astrophysics. It was very helpful to hear about their times in college and how they chose their respective paths. It gave us insight into how we might go in the future.

At the end of the day Aoife, Lucie and Mathilda from 6th year were presented with their certificates from the European Space Telescope organisation for winning 3rd place in the EST infographic competition. Their prize is a state of the art solar telescope for our school to use.

Our trip to Dunsink Observatory was fun and very interesting. It gave insight into the work of DIAS, astronomy and astrophysics.. Sadhbh and Camille were great guides that were knowledgeable and extremely helpful. We thank them and Mr Nugent for organising everything.We are looking forward to more trips like this in the future!

This account was compiled by two 5th year Physics students

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