My week as an astronomer

Posted by Siena | Sun, 29 Oct 2017

I am fascinated by astronomy. When I discovered that I could spend a week getting hands-on experience in the field of astronomy, I seized the opportunity. This October I spent my half-term working at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh.

The UK ATC is the national centre for astronomical technology. UK ATC designs and builds instruments for many of the world’s major telescopes. Their scientists also carry out observational and theoretical research into fundamental questions such as the origins of planets and of galaxies. Based at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, and operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. (STFC), its technology can be found in telescopes both on the ground and in space.

During my week at ATC, I was tasked with designing and building a motorized equatorial mount for guiding an extremely large telescope (ELT) using Arduino. I was also tasked with adding four lasers to the telescope using LED lights. The four lasers are used to create artificial stars in the Earth’s atmosphere so that the adaptive optics system can remove the effects of atmospheric turbulence to generate much sharper images. The mount had to be programmed to move in a very specific way. It had to have an angular rotation (up and down movement) of 2 degrees per second in the azimuth axis and 1 degree per second in the altitude axis. It also had to have a range of motion (rotation) of -270 to +270 degrees in the azimuth axis and 0 to +90 degrees in the altitude axis. Lastly, I had to design and create a control to turn the motors on and off and to turn the lights on and off.

The project was challenging because it involved designing, coding and building the Arduino circuit boards so that the LED lights turned on and off and the ELT mount rotated and moved up and down. The most interesting part of the project was learning how telescopes work, including the mechanics behind the motions and rotations of telescopes.

If you are passionate about astronomy, I highly recommend that you apply for the UK ATC work placement. It is an amazing opportunity to immerse your self in the field of astronomy and to learn from, and work with, some of the most experienced astronomers in the United Kingdom.

For more information on how to apply for a UK ATC work placement see:





Author Biography

Siena is a year 11 student at Mander Portman Woodward London who is currently working towards her Gold Award as an independent participant. She is particularly passionate about maths and physics. Siena is also committed to raising awareness and acceptance of autism and learning disabilities. She supports and mentors young autistic people and young people with disabilities through her website:

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