High School Students Spend Night In Computer Lab, Help McDonald Observatory Search For Planets

13 October 2004

EVENT: Austin and Round Rock students attending an overnight lock-in at Austin’s Lanier High School will be linked live over the Internet and videoconferencing to astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory in West Texas, helping in the search for planets around stars other than the Sun.

WHEN: 7 p.m., Oct. 15 (weather permitting; inclement weather in West Texas will move the event). Astronomical observing at McDonald will begin at 10 p.m.

WHERE: Sidney Lanier High School, Health Sciences Computer Lab, Room 115, 1201 Payton Gin Road

BACKGROUND: A small group of local high school students are going to stay up all night Friday – to help University of Texas at Austin astronomers look for planets. Students from Austin’s Sidney Lanier High School and Round Rock’s Stony Point High School will be logged into a specially created Web site that will allow them to see what the astronomers are seeing with the Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory, nearly 500 miles away under the dark skies of West Texas. They also will be linked into the telescope’s dome via videoconferencing, able to talk to astronomers at McDonald in real time.

Don Winget, astronomy professor and Chair of The University of Texas Astronomy Department, will be on hand at Lanier to discuss his planet-hunting research and the instrument that makes it possible, called Argos. Fergal Mullally, Professor Winget’s graduate student, will be observing at the telescope at McDonald Observatory.

Teachers Chris Cotter of Lanier High School and Donna Slaughter and Scott Harding of Stony Point High School have organized the event and will be supervising the students at the lock-in. This is the third lock-in organized at Lanier, and the first to involve students from another local school. It is also the first to incorporate videoconferencing.

Two generous donations by McDonald Observatory supporters are helping to make this event possible. Videoconferencing equipment was donated to McDonald Observatory by Board of Visitors member Richard King of Austin, owner of VideoCall. The Semmes Foundation and San Antonio attorney Tom Semmes, a member of the Friends of McDonald Observatory Orion Circle, donated a T-1 high-speed Internet line to the Observatory.

The Austin Astronomical Society will set up telescopes in the Lanier High School parking lot for the Friday night event, giving the students a chance to look at astronomical objects, weather permitting.

For more information on this planet-search project, please see the McDonald Observatory news release of November 19, 2003, “Astronomers Develop Cheap Method for Solar System Hunt.”

— END —

Additional Media Contacts:

Chris Cotter
Sidney Lanier High School, Austin ISD
phone: 512-680-7184

Donna Slaughter
Stony Point High School, Round Rock ISD
phone: 512-428-7118