Maui teens follow space satellite drop to Earth
Press release from: University of Hawaii
Posted: Saturday August 29 2020
Two middle school students from Maui have spotted a 250-pound space satellite that is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, August 29. Scientists expect the inoperative satellite, OGO-1, to shatter over the South Pacific, away from populated areas around 10:45 a.m. Hawaii standard time. University of Hawaii (IfA) Institute of Astronomy outreach astronomer JD Armstrong mentors eighth-grade Maui middle school students Waena Holden Suzuki and Wilson Chau, and the couple used the observations from Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakala to follow OGO-1.
Suzuki and Chau followed up after NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies issued a notification that the object is likely to be approaching Earth.
Based on data obtained by students and scientists from other observatories, it was discovered that the target was not an asteroid, but a satellite launched by NASA more than 50 years ago. OGO-1 is one of six major in-orbit Geophysical Observatory missions launched from 1964 to 1969. These were some of the largest scientific satellites, designed to study the Earth’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and space. between the Earth and the Moon. The last of the missions ceased operations in 1972.
“Some people wonder if it’s a good idea to leave the safety of the planet in the hands of teenagers. I see them as scientists, and if they know what they’re doing, then age doesn’t make much of a difference, ”Armstrong said. “I’ve seen a lot of students doing things like that end up getting scholarships for college. It’s great to see them having the opportunity to experience the excitement of doing real science and then having the experience to help pay for their college education. “
Maui’s telescopes are essential for tracking potentially dangerous satellites
The Haleakala Observatories play a vital role in satellite tracking, with observations from IfA and LCO telescopes and the Air Force’s Maui Space Surveillance Complex. The site hosts the Advanced Electro-Optical System, or AEOS, a 3.6-meter telescope. It is the country’s largest optical telescope designed to track satellites and missiles with visible and infrared sensors to collect data on objects near Earth and deep space. These telescopes are part of the “air traffic control” that tracks thousands of satellites in Earth orbit, warning of possible collisions and returning to Earth.
On July 20, the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope atop Haleakala discovered a 65-foot-diameter asteroid that appeared likely to pass close to Earth. Asteroid 2020 OO1 safely flew over Earth a week later. Some of the first tracking images of the asteroid’s approach were taken by high school students in Hawaii participating in IfA’s HI STAR program, using LCO telescopes.
Suzuki and Chau received praise for earlier sightings of the famous SpaceX Tesla launched in February 2018. Using filtered images, they measured the color of the space car and the attached rocket thruster. Their work was showcased at the Maui County Science and Engineering Fair and won several awards, including first place for the junior division. The duo also won first place at the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair in Physics and Astronomy in the Junior Division and were invited to participate in the Broadcom MASTERS science competition.
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