With our rural setting and low light pollution, Shawnigan is an ideal place for stargazing. Throughout the school year, our students have many opportunities to use our on-campus research-grade observatory. Although the School shifted to online learning at the end of March, Head of Science Nigel Mayes and Grade 11 student Keely R. have kept the program alive by guiding our community through remote operation of our own observatory as well as creating opportunities to take control of telescopes abroad – including the Faulkes Telescope Network in Hawaii and the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.
What follows below are reflections from Keely, one of our most dedicated astronomers.
I’ve always had a fascination with the stars. I got my first telescope when I was in Grade 6. This is when I first fell in love with astronomy. I’ve been doing astronomy at Shawnigan for about a year and a half now. It started when I was approached by Mr. Mayes during the astronomy unit in Grade 10 to do an astrophotography project. After I created my first astrophotography image of the Orion Nebula, I was hooked, and I knew I wanted to continue doing this as my fine art. At the beginning of my Grade 11 year the School made it an independent fine art for me to pursue. I use this time to process different astrophotography images. Some examples of projects I have completed are the Heart Nebula and a six paneled mosaic of Cygnus. I am very fortunate to have the support that Mr. Mayes has given me over this past year towards developing this fine art.
On a clear night, you can find me up at the observatory programming the telescope for my next project or giving night sky tours to other members of the community with Mr. Mayes. The coolest thing I have learned is all the different types of objects that are in space and how to identify them. The observatory is my creative outlet where I get to explore deep space and create visual representations of objects that aren’t easy to picture in your mind.
What I find most interesting about astrophotography is that when you process an image, even if two people have the same data, the final results will never look identical because there are so many different ways you can process and interpret it.
I think my favorite part about doing astronomy this year was when I got the chance to help out with the Grade 10s up at the observatory as part of their astronomy unit in science. I truly love sharing my passion with others and I found this was a great chance to do that. It’s amazing to see how engaged other students are with the observatory, how they all had questions and were eager to learn more. After the Grade 10s came to the observatory, two students were particularly interested in pursuing astrophotography. I worked with one of them, Tait H., as he did a beautiful job processing an image of the Pinwheel Galaxy. I am currently working with the other student, Brianna H., to collect the data for the Veil Nebula. She will be processing this in the fall.
Going into my final year at Shawnigan, I hope to expand the fine art and teach more people how to process astrophotography. After high school, I am hoping to pursue degrees in science and education. The observatory is a great place where I get the chance to do hands-on work in the field of science and I get to mentor others. I am not sure if astronomy is something I am going to pursue as a career, but I am keeping my options open. At the very least it is a passion of mine, and you will be able to find me stargazing for years to come.
Shawnigan Lake School is a co-educational boarding school on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The school is home to nationally-ranked academics, arts and athletics, with 100 per cent of graduates accepted to university.