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Middle school students collect data for space exploration

Usually, the K-8 Trailblazers group at Mountain Discovery Charter School in Bryson City can be found venturing out to trails and canoes on group wilderness expeditions. COVID-19 has made such expeditions challenging, so the students are going to space instead — virtually, that is. 

Western Carolina University Associate Physics and Astronomy Professor Enrique Gomez and Mountain Discovery second-grade teacher David Doughty have teamed up to offer middle-schoolers the chance to collect meaningful data for the European Space Agency by using the Las Cumbres Observatory to track and observe the transit of an exoplanet across a star located about 910 light years from Earth. 

The data will be used in preparing for the ESA’s ARIEL space mission to observe the characteristics of numerous exoplanets. The ESA will use the students’ data to determine which exoplanets they will concentrate on observing during the planned ARIEL space mission. 

“Mr. Doughty’s class sent observation requests to a robotic telescope at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa,” Gomez explained. “These observations will help the ExoClock project that seeks to keep updated our information of the orbital characteristics of exoplanets.”

Follow the project at the Trailblazers’ blog, www.mdcstrailblazer.edublogs.org.

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