First Nations high school students are getting an ‘out of this world’ astronomy experience, thanks to a new hands-on program at The Australian National University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. 

The Indigenous Work Experience Program (IWEX) provides year 10 and year 11 students from remote and regional New South Wales and Tasmania first-hand experience of astronomy and astrophysics in both research and industry settings.

IWEX is led by the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) and the ANU Research School of Astrophysics and Astronomy (RSAA).

Dr Delese Brewster, from ASTRO 3D, said the five-day program sees students placed with researchers and Indigenous scholars at the Mt Stromlo Observatory.

“We want to inspire the next generation of First Nations astronomers, researchers and scientists,” Dr Brewster said.

“This group is under-represented in astronomy and we need to provide a pipeline that will encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into tertiary study.

Indigenous astronomer and ANU research student Peter Swanton speaking with IWEX students. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

“We want to show these students that there is a whole world, if not galaxy, of career opportunities in these important areas that they can pursue when they graduate.”

Over the week, the students from the regional towns of Bourke, Moree, Canowindra and Tumbarumba in NSW will join others from Devonport, Tasmania and Blaxland in the Blue Mountains.

The students will complete an astronomy project while being mentored by professional astronomers, undertake remote observing via the ANU Siding Spring Observatory, take part in evening stargazing and build smartphone devices that measure the chemical makeup of light.

Students will work with ANU masters students, Gamilaraay/Yuwaalaraay man Peter Swanton and Gamilaroi astronomer and science communicator Karlie Noon.

As well as leading the astronomy program, Peter and Karlie will make cultural connections with the students by exploring Indigenous interpretations of the night sky.

Top image: Jamie Kidston/ANU

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