Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Accidental find a significant step in 17-year-old student's decision to pursue astronomy studies


Accidental find a significant step in 17-year-old student's decision to pursue astronomy studies


Many significant discoveries were made by chance, such as Christopher Columbus bumping into the Americas. This also happened at an astronomy camp at a Bangkok school, where a 17-year-old student became only the third documented person to spot a comet which was first discovered in 2005.

Treerat Tangpulphon, a matthayom 5 student of Suksanari School, who attended the camp for the first time, said the accidental discovery was a significant step for her in deciding to pursue in-depth studies in astronomy.

She dreams that one day she will be the first person to discover a comet, and that it will be named after her.

During the camp, organised by the Learning Centre for Earth Science and Astronomy (Lesa) in the middle of last year, Ms Treerat found a strange object that looked different from other objects in the sky. With help from experts at the camp, the object was identified as a comet located between the Leo and Cancer constellations.

Ms Treerat's sighting was sent for verification at the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey. The university informed Ms Treerat that she was only the third documented person to spot the comet.

The young student's sighting has become an inspiration for academic institutions and non-profit organisations promoting the study of astronomy.

Speaking at a seminar yesterday on astronomy studies by Thai youngsters, Lesa director Col Thagoon Kirdkao said giving youngsters a chance to study earth science and astronomy is crucial.

His agency has held a number of astronomy camps since 2004 and has a collection of more than 100 outstanding pieces of research work on earth science and astronomy initiated by the students attending the camps.

Among them are studies on the relationship between ozone and UV intensity, a study on the level of rainfall during the arrival of the Lekima storm in Nakhon Ratchasima province, and the frequency of earthquakes in Chiang Rai.

Kiatchai Jaitet, a 14 year-old student from the Princess Chulabhorn College in Chiang Rai province who conducted the earthquake forecast project, said his hometown was frequently hit by earthquakes and his family was scared, so he wants to know more about them.

Col Thagoon said that after years of working with Thai students, he found they had the potential to become great astronomers or earth scientists, but unfortunately they often could not develop their talent due to a lack of support from their families.

''The students' families are a big obstacle,'' he said. ''They usually want their children to enter well-paid careers like doctors or engineers. They don't want to see their children become a researcher, especially in astronomy, which is not popular here,'' said Col Nakorn. He urged parents to give their children the opportunity to study in the fields that really interested them.

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