NOTE: Full resolution images and captions are available

What began as an essay contest in British Columbia, Canada to
encourage an interest in astronomy for elementary school students
has resulted in spectacular images and scientific data that may
warrant possible follow-up observations.

A thirteen-year-old Vancouver, girl’s proposal to take a picture of
the Trifid Nebula by the Gemini Observatory is prompting a closer
look at this star-forming region.

The girl’s proposal was one of two winning essays in a contest
called “The Sky’s the Limit.”

The two winners will be honored at a presentation ceremony at 11
a.m. Thursday, June 20, at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in

The contest was sponsored by Gemini Observatory, the H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre, the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics
(HIA) from the National Research Council of Canada, and the
University of British Columbia.

Gemini Observatory is a cooperative partnership between seven
countries — Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom,
Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

Elementary school students throughout British Columbia were
encouraged to submit proposals to the Canadian Gemini Scientist
at UBC with the assistance and cooperation of the Space Centre.
The students described why they would like Gemini Observatory
to image a heavenly object of their choice.

In the younger category, Harveen Dhaliwal, a nine-year-old
student at Harry Sayers Elementary School in Abbotsford, B.C.,
won for her essay on Pluto. Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Braul, a
seventh-grade student at Southlands Elementary in Vancouver,
won the older category for her essay on the Trifid Nebula.

Both winners will receive framed posters featuring high-quality
images of their essay choices taken especially for them by the
Gemini Observatory, whose twin, 8-meter telescopes in Hawaii
and Chile are two of the largest in the world. Additionally, the
winners and their classmates will be treated to a day of activities at
the Space Centre, which features exhibits and activities in the
fields of earth and space science, and astronomy.

It was Ingrid’s Trifid Nebula essay which set in motion a series of
serendipitous events resulting in the detailed observation of what is
known technically as a Herbig-Haro jet, within the Trifid Nebula.
Herbig-Haro jets, or HH jets as they are generally known, are
linear, high-velocity jet-like expulsions associated with very young
stars and provide clues on how stars form and evolve. Such jets are
produced by gas expelled at speeds of up to 400 kilometers per
second during the process of star formation.

Dolores Walther, a System Support Associate monitoring the
telescope the night the Trifid image was taken, said originally the
Science Team had scheduled a much less detailed scan of the
nebula. “By chance the opportunity came up to take an in-depth
look,” she said.

Gemini Fellow Dr. Kathy Roth, the astronomer in charge at the
observatory the night of the Trifid imaging, made the decision to
switch to a much more detailed study of the nebula. “I decided I
wanted the data to be scientifically useful if at all possible,” she
said. “And on top of that, later we discovered we had a software
bug in the program which actually gave us twice as much data as
we would normally acquire. So we got a much deeper look at the

“When I saw this data coming through, immediately I said, wow,
that’s interesting,” said Gemini Astronomer Dr. Colin Aspin who
reviewed the Trifid imaging. “Even though this HH jet is already
known, the clarity and depth of the Gemini image makes this a
very exciting image.”

Aspin’s field of special interest is the study of stellar evolution.
“Based on the information in this data, I definitely plan to follow
up on this one.”

The data were then processed by the Canadian Gemini Office of
HIA, who support the Gemini telescopes’ operations for Canadian

“I think this is a wonderful outcome to what started out as a
prototype program to bring more awareness of astronomy into our
classrooms,” said Dr. Dennis Crabtree, Gemini Office Manager for
Canada at the HIA. Crabtree said the contest was initiated by Dr.
Harvey Richer, Gemini Scientist and Professor of Astronomy at
the University of British Columbia.

Richer teamed up with Dr. Peter Newbury, a Lecturer in
Astronomy at UBC and an astronomer at the Space Centre where
he gives a popular talk on the history of astronomy called,
“Nightwatch: The Astronomers’ Passion.”

The pair designed the contest and then approached the committee
responsible for determining which scientific proposals from across
Canada will be allocated time on Canada’s share of observing time
at Gemini Observatory.

“We allocated the time for the contest because we thought it would
be a good way to give something back to the citizens of Canada,”
said Dr. Pierre Bastien, Professor of Astronomy at the University
of Montreal and chairman of the eight-person Canadian Time
Allocation Committee. “After all, the money to support such
projects as Gemini comes from the tax payers,” he said.


The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration that has built
two identical 8-meter telescopes. The telescopes are located at Mauna
Kea, Hawai’i (Gemini North) and Cerro Pach=F3n in central Chile (Gemini
South), and hence provide full coverage of both hemispheres of the sky.
Both telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow large,
thin mirrors under active control to collect and focus both optical and
infrared radiation from space.