The Subaru Makali‘i School: High School Students Observe with the Subaru Telescope
May 31, 2006
Commemorative photo taken during visit to the Subaru telescope (Enlarge)
The Subaru Makali‘i School event, held in August of 2005, was a particularly special program among the many astronomy education promotional events held at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Subaru Makali‘i School is a program that provides high school and college students the opportunity to use the Subaru telescope to make observations relevant to a research theme they have designed themselves. Not an easy task, even for professional astronomers. Makali‘i is the Hawaiian name for the Pleiades constellation (known in Japanese as Subaru.)
Although the solicitation period for research themes was only six weeks long, 27 high schools and colleges from all over Japan submitted entries. Subject to a strict selection process, five schools passed the initial document screening. These included Seikei High School, Saitama Prefecture’s Kasukabe Girl’s Senior High School, Nagano National College of Technology, Saitama Prefecture’s Koshigaya Kita High School, and Hiroshima Prefecture’s Kokutaiji High School.
In the second stage of the screening process, students from the five selected schools were interviewed on June 10, 2005, at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Mitaka campus near Tokyo. During the 30-minute interview, students were required to talk about their ordinary activities, the significance of the research theme to be pursued through observation with the Subaru telescope, how they would make observations using the Faint Object Camera And Spectrograph FOCAS, etc. After the interviews, final judging resulted in the selection of two schools, Seikei High School and Nagano National College of Technology. Observations using the Subaru telescope was scheduled for August.
The research theme of the Seikei High School Meteorology Club was “Using the Subaru Telescope to Investigate Planets outside the Solar System.” The department had already succeeded in transit observations of the transiting planet HD209458 with the department’s compact telescope on the roof of the school.
The Nagano National College of Technology’s Astronomy Club research theme was “Observing the Interaction of Galaxies via Hydrogen Emission Lines.” This project uses an Hα filter to observe hydrogen gas ionized by star formation and other energetic processes triggered by the interaction of galaxies inside a galaxy cluster.
On August 8, 2005, a total of nine people -- four students and one instructor from Seikei High School, and three students and one instructor from Nagano National College of Technology -- arrived in Hawaii. They visited the Subaru Telescope Hilo Office, toured the facilities, and heard lectures by graduate students conducting research at the observatory, as well as by Japanese exchange students at UH-Hilo.
The Subaru telescope is located at the summit of Mauna Kea, at an altitude of over 13,100 feet. People who are using the telescope have to acclimate themselves to the altitude by spending the night prior to their observation at the Hale Pohaku dormitories, located at an altitude of 9,200 feet. The students and teachers from the two participating high schools went up to the summit of Mauna Kea on August 9. After touring the telescope, they descended the mountain to spend the night at the Hale Pohaku dormitory. The Seikei High School group learned that the phenomena they were to study was actually happening that night, not on the main scheduled observation day of August 10, so on August 9 they went back up to the summit after dinner and conducted their observation.
On August 10, first the Nagano National College of Technology and next Seikei High School conducted their observations. The event was webcast live at Tokyo’s Science Museum via high-speed internet provided for the occasion by the WIDE Project. Students and teachers from both schools took turns explaining their research and what it was like to be up on Mauna Kea.
Students from both Seikei High School and Nagano National College of Technology, together with professional astronomers, reported the observation results of the Subaru Makali‘i School project in to the Astronomical Society of Japan in March, 2006. Tetsuharu Fuse, who accompanied the students during their observations at the Subaru telescope and webcast, says “these students’ gusto rival the pros.”