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Astronomy Research Seminars

It usually takes amateur astronomers several years to learn how to make double star observations, analyze their data, and write up their results for publication. Could high school and community college students do this in a single semester? That was the challenge taken up in 2006 by students at Arroyo Grande High School and their Cuesta College (Russ Genet instructor). Visual observations of double stars were made through laser-etched astrometric eyepieces (a ruler and protractor projected against the sky with high magnification) mounted on telescopes provided by local amateurs.

The seminar rapidly took shape. Failure was not an option; each team would produce a paper for publication. Although it took half the semester and five to ten rewrites and an external review to whip the team papers into shape, everyone understood that this was the real thing; the reputation of the students, instructor, schools, and the Journal of Double Star Observations were all on the line. As with professional research, diverse talents and efficient teamwork were the key to success. Each student contributed as their time and talent permitted, with author order accounting for the unequal contributions. The seminar soon took off and spread to other schools once its graduates—thanks to their coauthored papers—obtained admissions to colleges of their choice, often with scholarships.

Starting in 2014, the seminar went on line. Double star observations were made with electronic cameras on remote, robotic telescopes. The National Science Foundation, seeing the merit of low cost early student research, funded the expansion and evaluation of the seminar via Grant # 160350 Student Research within Communities of Practice. The nonprofit Institute for Student Astronomical Research ( and the Small Telescope Astronomical Research Handbook supported the seminar’s community, as did joint meetings and summer workshops. When counted up a few years ago, there were over 200 published seminar papers coauthored by over 700 students.


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