Gee Whiz Astronomy Modeling (GWAM)  in Spanish:

In order to extend the experience, a long-time GHOU leader in Chile,  Physics and Mathematics professor, Elizabeth Villanueva has been coordinating the Gee-Whiz Astronomy Modeling – Chile group since April 2021.

This is a free annual online workshop for teachers and students from all over Chile who want to learn about how astronomical images are analyzed. Students learn about astronomy while acquiring skills in using SalsaJ photometry software.

The project has hours of remote observation at the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) through cooperation with educational projects. The images obtained in LCO have been used by two students belonging to the program to replicate the exoplanet transit technique, participating in the 2021 Chilean School Astronautical Congress, obtaining second place in the High School category.

Based on the experience of the year 2021, the workshop has been reformulated in 4 stages in order to guide students from the basic knowledge of astronomical image analysis, requests for images in LCO and the conduct of future research in school astronomy, obtaining the participation of 8 Chilean schools by the year 2022.

The learning trajectory for Ms. Villanueva’s course is shown below:

Up to now, both exoplanets and eclipsing binaries have been objects of study. Being able to understand, measure, and then analyze the light in an image is a central skill in GHOU. Accordingly, students learned to use SalsaJ the image-processing software developed by GHOU members, and AstroImageJ, developed by Karen Collins at the University of Louisville. As a source of images students use the Las Cumbres Observatory remote telescope network (LCO). Students started by requesting images of especially beautiful Messier objects, then progressed to acquiring image sequences of stars for photometric measurement. Ultimately, each student chose a specific exoplanet to study, as well as the tools to do so.

Using the LCO webpage for image acquisition proved to be comparatively easy for students, but acquiring high quality data required a joint effort by all participants. Issues of image saturation, signal to noise ratios and visibility schedules all presented real-world scientific problem-solving opportunities. Typical exoplanet transits produce about a 2% dimming of the parent star, so a bit of trial and error was needed to finally acquire good image sequences. Learning how to translate the predictions of the Swarthmore College exoplanet transit calculator into an LCO observation request was decidedly non-trivial. Outside experts helped GWAM participants navigate the intricacies involved.


2022 University Credit:  Gee Whiz Astronomy Modeling including Exoplanets (GWAM):

This spring, the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), in cooperation with University of the Pacific, offered a distance learning 3-graduate-credit course for astronomy teachers entitled Astronomy Modeling with Exoplanets. During this 15-week course teachers learned to construct, refine and apply fundamental conceptual models of astronomy, and to do astronomical research like astronomers do. After learning to use LCO’s network of robotic telescopes, they chose targets from the Swarthmore exoplanet database, obtained series of images from LCO, and did photometric analysis on them to capture exoplanet transits. At the end of the course (May 2022) teachers said they were looking forward to being able to introduce their high school students to the use of image analysis software such as SalsaJ and JS9 and the excitement of capturing their own exoplanet transit! They saw this as great way to motivate student interest in choosing astronomy as an elective course that might enhance their chances of acceptance at colleges with selective admissions, as well as a pathway into the sciences that could attract students who might not otherwise consider science beyond what is required for graduation.

2021-Present: Gee Whiz Astronomy Modeling (GWAM):


Over 18 months, 2020-2022, GHOU has organized a small group of students, teachers, and scientists under the name GWAM. Participants live and study in the UK, Spain, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, India, and the United States. Participants collaborate online synchronously for one hour a week at a time manageable to people all six represented continents. The shared goal is learning how to undertake real astronomical sciences by acquiring and analyzing astronomical image.