The winners of the EST school competition visit Teide Observatory

The students, from Italy and Slovakia, attended a ceremony award at Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos of Tenerife, and enjoyed a guided tour of the EST Project Office headquarters and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in La Laguna.


The international school competition “The Sun at a Glance” organised by the European Solar Telescope took place between June and December 2021. It was a very successful educational activity that gathered 2859 participants from 16 European countries. The students, in the age groups 14-15 and 15-16, prepared infographics about a solar-related topic of their choice for the EST Solarpedia and submitted them to the competition. The first and second prizes? A trip to the island of Tenerife in Spain, to visit the solar telescopes operating at Teide Observatory, for the students and their teachers. The results of the competition were announced on February 3, 2022.


Students, teachers and authorities at Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos. / Credit: Víctor Aníbal López (IAA-CSIC)


On April 10, the winners traveled to the Canary Islands, where they enjoyed a program full of activities focused on solar physics in one of the top locations for astronomical observations in the world. The first prize was won by a team from Liceo Scientifico Antonio Labriola in Rome (Italy). The second prize went to a team of students from Gymnázium Varšavská in Žilina (Slovakia).

On Monday April 11, an award ceremony took place at the Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos de Tenerife. The students were welcomed by Héctor Socas-Navarro, director of the museum and solar astronomer. The director of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Rafael Rebolo, and the vice-director, Casiana Muñoz, congratulated the students and encouraged them to learn about the astronomical conditions and facilities of the Canary Islands. The two winning teams presented their work to the audience. Finally, the students and their teachers received a diploma from the EST Coordinator, Manuel Collados, and the Director of Innovation of the Canary Islands Government, María Aranzazu Artal.


Christoph Kuckein (IAC) explaining how the GREGOR telescope works. / Credit: Víctor Aníbal López (IAA-CSIC)


The students visited Teide Observatory on Tuesday 12. The first stop was the French solar telescope THEMIS, where director Bernard Gelly offered a guided tour of the facility, explaining the principles of ground-based solar observation. Later, researcher Christoph Kuckein (IAC) showed the students the German telescopes VTT and GREGOR, the largest solar telescope currently in operation in Europe. They visited the control room of the VTT and the dome of GREGOR. The students spent the night at the observatory, enjoying the dark skies of Tenerife and learning how the various night telescopes installed there are operated.

The next day, the students visited the EST Project Office headquarters at the IACTEC building, a space that supports industry and innovation in the Canary Islands. There, they could chat with the engineers designing various EST subsystems. Finally, they took a tour of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and visited the clean rooms where some of the future EST instruments are currently being tested.


The winning teams in the VTT control room. / Credit: Víctor Aníbal López (IAA-CSIC)


The EST team has received very positive feedback on the school competition and the care with which the students were treated during their visit to Tenerife. In the words of the father of one of the Italian students:

“My son is a member of the winner team. He just came back from Tenerife last Thursday: it was an awesome experience for him. He's just a 15 years old boy, but he better understands that commitment and diligence on hard topics can translate into concrete results. Maybe he will not win the next challenge along his life, but he is more confident that everything is within his reach.”

The students who ranked third, from Santa Sabina Dominican College in Dublin (Ireland), will receive a complete Halpha telescope for observations of the solar chromosphere.


The group chating with EST engineer Juan Cózar. / Credit: Víctor Aníbal López (IAA-CSIC)


Besides the five days journey to Tenerife, some institutions of the EST consortium wanted to acknowledged the effort of their nationals in the EST school competition. All the Italian finalists were invited by INAF to visit the Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma soon after the competition results were announced. Also the Rosseland Centre for Solar Physics (University of Oslo, Norway) invited the two Norwegian finalist teams, ranked in fourth and fifth position, to visit their premises within the Open Days of the University of Oslo, which is normally reserved for students in the last grade of secondary school.


Italian participants at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma. / Credit:  INAF-OAR


Finally, as a small gift, all the students who prepared infographics for the EST Solarpedia and submitted them to the EST school competition received a certificate of participation signed by Mats Carlsson, the president of the European Association for Solar Telescopes. Both students and teachers were very grateful for the certificates, as shown by the many appreciation emails sent to the EST Communication Office.


Students from IES Juan López Morillas (Spain) showing their certificates of participation. / Credit: Lola Ruiz Herrera and Rosario López López.


Image gallery of the event