Europlanet Summer School 2018
From 1-10 August, we returned to the beautiful Molėtai Astronomical Observatory in Lithuania for the Europlanet Summer School 2018. Following the success of the 2017 Summer School, we again offered a programme combining hands-on experience of making observations of stellar variability and exoplanet transits (and analysing the data) with theoretical and practical modules in science communication.
The Class of 2018 included 21 students from 9 countries and a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, including young scientists (post-doctoral researchers, PhD students, Masters students and undergraduates) studying astronomy and other disciplines (software engineering, mechanical engineering and museum studies), amateur astronomers and teachers.
Each night, the students took part in observations with the Molėtai Astronomical Observatory’s telescopes, under the supervision of Sarunas Mikolaitis, Edita Stonkute, Erika Pakstiene and Justas Zdanavičius of Vilnius University’s Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy. Spectroscopic instruments mounted on the largest telescope in northern Europe enabled participants to analyse the chemical composition of their chosen stars. By studying changes in the intensity of light, they learned to detect the variability of stars and to observe planets in distant solar systems (exoplanets) crossing in front of their host stars to complete a transit. For international space missions, such as NASA’s TESS exoplanet hunter and the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS and PLATO missions, these ground-based observations are an important resource for investigating exoplanets.
The science communication training sessions were led by Pedro Russo (University of Leiden), Thilina Heenatigala (Europlanet/Science Office), Rosa Doran (Nuclio), and Anita Heward (Europlanet/Science Office), with modules that covered basics of science communication, engaging with the media, public and schools, social media and evaluation. A press release written by students about the summer school was published on the University of Vilnius website. As part of their evaluation of the Summer School, students were asked to keep photo diaries – Alexandra Fratti and Andrius Zigmantus have been kind enough to share theirs with us.
Over the weekend mid-way through the course, the students were joined by members of the public for a talk on “Stars and Exoplanets – the breakthrough of research” by Hans Kjeldsen of Aarhus University in Denmark, and took an excursion to Lithuania’s historic capital city, Vilnius, and the island castle of Trakai.
Special thanks to Gražina Tautvaisiene, Renata Minkevičiūtė, Arnas Drazdauskas and all the Local Organising Committee for their work in organising the Summer School and creating a memorable event!