East Hawaii News

Students Begin Research Work Using Mauna Kea Telescopes

March 30, 2016, 4:13 PM HST
* Updated March 30, 4:19 PM
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Students from Waiakea High School and Kapolei High School, awarded telescope observing time through the Maunakea Scholars program, have begun their telescope time.

Kapolei students got their first glimpse through the use of the major telescopes for their own original research projects this week.

The students from both schools were selected in early March based on the creativity and viability of proposals they submitted.

Earlier this week, students from Kapolei spent the day at Halepohaku, the midlevel facility, as high winds didn’t allow for access to the summit.

The Kapolei High School students later went to the Canada-France-Hawai’i Telescope headquarters in Waimea, where they spent the night observing targets for their experiments from the remote telescope control room.


“What a joy to be along for this adventure, witnessing the pure inspiration and curiosity our students feel as part of this program,” said Heidi Armstrong, Hawai’i State Department of Education complex area superintendent, Campbell-Kapolei. “Partnerships like this, between the Hawai’i State Department of Education and the world’s most powerful collection of telescopes, give our students the chance to push beyond the boundaries of conventional classroom education.”


Students in the program worked with University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy and Gemini International Observatory to learn astronomical data analysis and formulate their research proposals.

The projects were selected by a time allocation committee at CFHT and will receive, collectively, an entire night of telescope time to complete their observations.

“We are incredibly proud to provide the opportunity for these students to do cutting-edge research using our telescope,” said Mary Beth Laychak, outreach program manager for CFHT. “The sophistication of their proposals is incredible, and we are excited to see what they are able to do next.  We hope this experience jump-starts exciting careers in STEM fields.”


The first observing run took place Monday night in the remote observing room at CFHT’s Waimea headquarters, where the four students from Kapolei High School watched data stream live from the summit to computer systems in Waimea.

Ashley Cobbs and Nevyn Tyau are studying mischaracterized unconfirmed exoplanets, while Jamie Valdez and David Zerba are studying supermassive black holes in quasars. Both student groups used the instrument ESPaDOnS, CFHT’s echelle spectropolarimeter, for their observations.

“Our project is about quasars: really hot gasses that come shooting out of black holes. They tell us what was evident in the early universe,” said Valdez. “I’ll be able to take this experience with me and know how much I’m capable of.”

The Maunakea Scholars program was launched this year to bring Hawai’i’s aspiring young astronomers into the observatory community. It is the first program of its kind internationally.

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