Solar Observing in Schools (SOS) program

The Solar Observing in Schools (SOS) program brings the excitement of looking through a telescope to all students in the classroom, with little extra burden on teachers. Our set of ten solar telescopes is available to be loaned out to local middle schools and high schools in Detroit, providing students the exciting experience of using solar telescopes in the classroom to observe sunspots, solar prominences and other features of the sun.

Program director: Ed Cackett


  • To provide teachers with professional development in astronomy, including exposure to state-of-the-art research.
  • Provide access to solar telescopes for schools.

Solar telescopes

We have ten Coronado Personal Solar Telescopes to be loaned out to Detroit schools. Please contact Ed Cackett to complete a checkout.

After borrowing the solar telescopes, we ask that teachers fill in details of the use of the telescopes and share your captured pictures.

Complete observation form

Teachers are also asked to complete a feedback survey about their experience using the telescopes.

Complete the survey

Program materials


Telescope observation

In-class solar activities


One of the major education-related issues facing the United States is maintaining a science-educated workforce. This issue is highlighted by the fact that the percentage of bachelor's degrees conferred in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the United States was lower in 200809 (24.2%) than it was in 199899 (25.6%) (source: U.S. Department of Education). This issue has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education which has made it one of its goals to 'Restore and sustain America's lead in the modern knowledge economy, by improving the participation and performance of America's students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and fields.'

Astronomy has an important role to play in increasing participation in STEM fields. Astronomy is often highlighted in the media, and it is rare to find someone who has not been inspired by simply looking up at the stars, wondering where we came from and our place in the Universe. Astronomy can, therefore, have a broad impact, reaching out to a large number of students and helping to excite them about science and a career in a STEM field.

Laboratory experiments and activities play a central role in much of science teaching and effectively enhance intended learning outcomes (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2003, Science Education, 88, 28). But, while many sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics allow for laboratory experiments, astronomy differs in that it is an observational science space is our laboratory and we can do nothing but observe it as best we can. While awe-inspiring to look up at the stars, it is generally not practical for classroom teaching. Both teachers and students have to go way above and beyond to do nighttime observing through a telescope.

Even then, poor weather conditions or light pollution (particularly in an urban environment such as metro Detroit) can cause big problems that make running evening observing sessions tough, and often unsuccessful. Night-time observing cannot easily be an integral part of high school astronomy education. However, the experience of looking through a telescope, especially for the first time, is exciting and memorable, and a clear way to inspire students in science.

A recent national survey of astronomy teachers by Krumenaker (2009, Astronomy Education Review, 8, 010109) highlights many clear issues. For instance, only 12 to 13% of high schools nationally offer a dedicated astronomy course, and those that do are generally large, suburban high schools. Moreover, only 8% of those teaching astronomy have an astronomy major (compare this with 33% for Physics and 61% for Bioscience). Most of those teaching astronomy come from geoscience (70% have an Earth science certification).

Most teachers have taken only one to two astronomy courses at either the undergraduate or graduate level and a large minority (28%) did not take any course during their bachelor program. Even more worrying is that 15% have never taken an astronomy course at any level. An important part of the Solar Observing in Schools program is, therefore, to offer professional development to teachers in astronomy, with an emphasis on contemporary material and cutting-edge research.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation through grant AST-1351222.

About Ed Cackett

Ed obtained his Ph.D. from the University of St Andrews in Scotland where his thesis looked at Accretion onto Compact Objects in Active Galactic Nuclei and X-ray binaries, in other words how stuff gets pulled onto black holes and neutron stars, an area which remains his main interest.

After his Ph.D., Ed was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan where he was awarded a prestigious NASA Chandra Postdoctoral Fellow. After four years at the University of Michigan, Ed moved back to his native England, to work at the University of Cambridge where he spent 18 months at the Institute of Astronomy. In January 2012, he moved back to Michigan to Wayne State University as an assistant professor. He was recently awarded an NSF Early Career award which is the agency's most prestigious award for up-and-coming researchers in science and engineering.