Catch a Star! 2004 Edition

... and discover all its secrets!


  • This competition is closed. Find out more about ESO's current educational material and activities on our education pages!


The winners of the 2004 competition are now announced at this page !

This famous educational programme now enters into the third round. Following the successful completion of Catch a Star! 2002 and Catch a Star! 2003 , here are the details about the programme in 2004. Note, in particular, the deadlines for registration on December 10, 2004 and delivery of your report on January 10, 2005 . This is later than in the previous years in order to give you more time to do the work and to make it easier to plan ahead. Be sure to read carefully the rules below before you begin your project!


On a dark night far from the city lights, you can see about three thousand stars in the sky with the unaided eye. With a binocular you can see more than ten thousand celestial lights and in a small telescope the number of visible stars increases enormously. This is a view of the early morning sky at the end of August when Saturn and Venus are seen very near each other.

The Night Sky

The Milky Way Galaxy in which we live contains at least 300 billion stars of different types, dark and bright shining dust clouds, open and globular stellar clusters, as well as a massive black hole at the center. So the Sun is really an insignificant member of this great system. Here is a view from the side.

The Night Sky

Is it possible to catch one of these objects - for instance a star? No, because stars are very distant, very hot and very large celestial bodies. For example, the bright, red star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion (at the right shoulder of this celestial "hunter"), is located at a distance of more than 400 light-years and is a "supergiant" star, about 500 times larger than the Sun and 10,000 times as luminous as "our" star. So the general answer to this question is No!

But there is another way to do this. You can select an astronomical object - a bright star, a distant galaxy, a beautiful comet, a planet or a moon in the solar system or some other celestial body like the Orion Nebula and write a report about this object.

There is also a possibility to write a report about a celestial event or phenomenon - e.g. a solar or lunar eclipse, northern or southern lights, an interesting meteor shower like the Leonids, or even the Mercury Transit in 2003 or the great Venus Transit in 2004. You may also write about a visit of an observatory with a description of its work, in relation to the object or phenomenon you have chosen.

That is the aim of...

The "Catch a Star!" Project

This unique project revolves around a web-based competition (with great prizes to win!) and is centred on astronomy. It is specifically conceived to stimulate the interest of young people in various aspects of this well-known exciting field of science, but will also be of interest to the broad public.

Following the great success in previous years, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) now again welcome all students in Europe's schools (*) to this exciting web-based programme with a competition . It takes place within the context of the EC-sponsored European Week of Science and Technology .

Play cosmic detective and work like the modern astronomers do - how?

Stars are located at incredible distances and their "life" lasts billion of years - much too long to investigate any single of these celestial objects during the human life span. So astronomers have to work like detectives. They make observations and try to read the clues that may reveal the cosmic mysteries. In the past the scientists worked individually, but today they get together in teams to be more efficient. Do it in the same way: Launch or join a group of up to four persons (e.g., three students and one teacher) who should first select an astronomical object and then try to find as much information as possible about "their object". This information may be about the position and visibility in the sky, the physical and chemical characteristics, particular historical aspects, related mythology and sky lore, etc.

And: "Catch a Transit!"

And please notice: the year 2004 was when a very exciting and fascinating celestial event happened. On June 8, planet Venus passed in front of the Sun. This rare event could be observed in most parts of the world and you will find much information about it at the webpages of the VT-2004 programme, with photos, videos, drawings, etc. and details about the special observation campaign. So you can also try to "Catch a Transit" - write a report with a description of your own group's activities on this occasion.

Technical details

The groups have to produce a short summarising report (in HTML format; with images and text in English) about this investigation and the object should then be sent to ESO Garching. For this task we have produced a special form this year (see below). Please use it when you write your report, this will be of great help for the jury that has to evaluate the many reports. It is the "ticket" for joining the Cacth a Star! 2004 contest and it shall be sent to ESO in Garching Germany) - see below. All reports receive a quality number, with the possibility to win fascinating prizes.

If you write a report about the Venus transit we suggest that you include:

  • A short introduction
  • A description of how you have learned about this event
  • How you collected information about the various activities
  • A description of your observation site
  • A description of your group and the instruments you used
  • A description of what happened on the day of the transit and the results you obtained

Fascinating Prizes

A jury of specialists from ESO and EAAE will carefully evaluate all the reports submitted by the deadline, and 20 (possibly more) international winners will be declared.

The First Prize is a free trip in the first half of 2005 for the members of the group to the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile, the site of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) (**). Here you will meet some of the ESO astronomers and be present during a night of observations at the world's most advanced optical/infrared telescope.

Paranal Observatory

The Paranal Observatory (Atacama Desert, Chile)

The Second Prize is a free trip for the members of the group to the Wendelstein observatory (**). This is one of the best sites for observing the Sun and it has a fantastic view over the Alps.

Wendelstein Observatory

Wendelstein Observatory and the Alps (Bavaria, Germany)

The Third Prize is a free trip for the members of the group to the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Bavaria, Germany) (**). Also here you will meet ESO astronomers and have an opportunity to learn more about front-line astronomy. Visits to some other interesting sites in the Munich area will also be arranged.

ESO Headquarters

ESO Headquarters in Munich (Bavaria, Germany)

The Fourth and Fifth Prizes consist of a free trip (and overnight-stay) for the members of the groups to the high-altitude Koenigsleiten Public Observatory and Planetarium in the Austrian Alps (1800 m a.s.l.) . This is a wonderful site of great natural beauty and one of the best for astronomical observations in continental Europe.


The Koenigsleiten Public Observatory and Planetarium (Austria)

Dozens of additional, very attractive prizes will also be given, including jumbo-size astronomical photographs from ESO's large telescopes as well as CD-ROMs with astronomical software (one prize per winning team).

All members of winning groups will also receive a personal certificate .

Please be sure to read the instructions carefully, before you start up your own Catch a Star! or Catch a Transit! project!

Who can participate in this programme?

You may participate in this programme, if you are

  • a group of up to three students and one teacher , and
  • you all belong to a primary or secondary school in Europe (*) on November 1, 2004.

This means that only students who have not yet terminated their school studies on this date can participate. No student may participate in more than one group.

How to join?

This is what you and your group has to do in order to participate:

  • First you "catch" an astronomical object you want to find out more about. Be sure to check the Registered Projects' webpage , to see if this object has already been chosen. If three other groups in your own country have chosen that object , you must select another one. In other words, no more than three groups in one country may work on the same object. (Note, however, that in order to facilitate participation for younger students, this rule will not be enforced for groups of students in primary schools). Note also that this rule does not apply to the "Catch a Transit!" programme. Any number of groups in a country may write reports about their activities around this event.
  • In order to register officially the participation of a group, one of its members must then write an email to Be sure to mention:
    • the name of the chosen object
    • the names of all the members of your group
    • the ages of the students, and
    • the name and address of your school (with city and country) and your email-address.
    Your registration must be made at the latest on December 10, 2004 . Later registrations will not be taken into account.

Upon receipt of this information, your group, together with your object, will be displayed on the Registered Projects' webpage . You will also receive confirmation via email.

How to "discover" your object? - What must you and your group then do?

Now starts the real work!

The goal is to collect information about "your" object from different sources and to write an interesting report . Not only will you learn a lot by doing so - if your report is accepted, it will also be displayed at the official "Catch a Star!" website with your names and addresses, next to all the other reports from all over Europe (*). Your group will have a chance to win the First Prize! There will also be special prizes to the three schools with the largest number of accepted reports!

This is what you will have to do and think about:

  1. Collect information about "your" object in books, journals, webpages, historical documents etc.
    It is important that you mention all these sources of information in your report (the "citations").
    You may try to find information about:
    • What was your object's past and what will be its future ?
    • Its main characteristics , for instance its colour, temperature, chemical composition, etc.
    • How did the scientists obtain that information - which observations did they perform? How sure are they about what they say about the object?
  2. Get images of your object - at least in one of these two possible ways:
    • By observing it with a telescope (could be either visually and making a drawing from what you see, with a photographic camera or with a CCD)
    • From an astronomical database (may be on the web, on a CD-ROM, in a book, etc.)
  3. Make an observation with your own instrument and describe the method of such an observation, or create a practical activity that may be used in the school and which is based on some of the information you have gathered in Task 1 above. Perhaps your description or activity, or at least the idea behind it, may later be taken over at many other schools in the world!
  4. Compare your object with another one of the same class (planet, moon, comet, star, galaxy, etc.) and explain the differences and/or the similarities.
  5. When you are ready, you and your group should write a report (in English and in HTML , so that it can later be shown on the web - preferably not longer than about 10 A4 pages). Fill out the special form (available in ASCII and Word format) and be sure to include information about:
    • your country
    • the title of the report (with the name of the object!)
    • Your Group (members, age, teacher) and a photo of the team members
    • E-Mail address where you can be reached
    • Postal address of your school
    Then you attach your report which should include:
    • The logos of "Catch a Star", ESO and EAAE (click on these words to get the corresponding image files)
    • A summary ("abstract") of the report (half a page at most)
    • Your report with text and images
    • References for the individual images (where do they come from?)
    • Bibliography
  6. Read carefully the instructions given on the "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)" page and send all of this in electronic format (also the images) to, as suggested. It is recommended that the images be directly linked from the main file. The report should be easily readable even in printed form, so avoid for example to write text on a dark background.
  7. Please notice that there is a firm deadline for the delivery of your report and pay attention to it! You MUST keep it if you want to participate - that means: Send your report at the right time, before the deadline - reports, which are AFTER the deadline cannot be accepted!

Please contact, if you have any questions. The organisers will do their best to help, but it may take a little time before you receive an answer!

How to win? - Here are the rules

You and your group will be registered as "Official Participants" in "Catch a Star!" and will have a chance to win one of the prizes, once you have fulfilled the following requirements :

  1. Your group has done the seven tasks outlined above, filled out the form (point 5) and your report is reasonably correct in scientific terms (the jury members will judge this).
  2. You did your own work . This means that it will not be enough just to copy texts from scientific articles, for instance about the Venus Transit, etc. This is why you have to mention the sources you have used by citing them in your report. You may use quotes from the articles etc. you read, but you must also arrive at your own conclusions and add your own ideas to the report. Try to make it interesting, clear and original!
  3. You send your report to It must arrive there not later than on January 10, 2005, at 12:00 hrs Universal Time (13:00 hrs Central European Time) .

(*) Because of ESO's special relationship with the Republic of Chile (the host country of the ESO observatories), teachers and students from this country are also welcome to participate.

(**) Please note that the three trips to Paranal, Garching and Wendelstein will be realised in any case, but because of age restrictions, they can only be offered to groups in which all participants are 15 years of age or older .