Across the Universe

Thirteen years ago the Gemini Observatory embarked on a program called Journey Through the Universe. The intention of the program then, as today, is to connect observatory staff with classroom teachers and students. Observatory staff and NASA scientists visit classrooms, sharing the wonders of astronomy and engineering. Over the past 13 years, the program has grown to reach 8,860 students this year in East and North Hawaii.

Last year was the inaugural year of Journey Through the Universe North Hawaii. The program stared at Honokaa Elementary, Intermediate and High School. This year, staff from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and WM Keck Observatory visited 1,700 students in North Hawaii during the week of March 13-17, visiting Paauilo School and Waimea Elementary Schoolalong with a return to Honokaa Elementary, Intermediate and High Schools.

Students learned about the moon, sun and planets through hands-on demonstrations and lots of Play-Doh. Fourth graders at WES constructed mini robots with a graduate student from the UH Institute for Astronomy. An astronomer from the Keck Observatory took an infrared camera to the HHS chemistry classes to explain the importance of the infrared to astronomy. CFHT staff helped Paauilo and WES 1st and 2nd graders understand forces with ping pong balls, straws and a maze.

As part of Journey Week, Brian Day, a NASA astronomer, gave a public presentation at HHS on March 14. Dr. Day is the director of communication and outreach at the NASA Lunar Science Institute and the project manager for Lunar and Planetary Modeling and Mapping. He brought samples of moon rocks and asteroids for the students to see and handle. The excitement was palpable as they realized they were looking at rocks and soil samples from the moon. Dr. Day currently manages a team virtually exploring Mars to look potential landing sites for future Mars Missions. It was this expertise he shared with the students as he gave the attendees as guided tour of the planet. He encouraged the students to check out the NASA Mars Trek website to explore Mars for themselves.

One of the highlights of the annual Journey Through the Universe is a reception sponsored by the Hawaii Island and Japanese Chambers of Commerce. This year the reception’s featured speaker was Devin Chu, a Hilo High School alum and current astronomy graduate student at UCLA. He talked about how the Journey program was influential in developing his interest in astronomy and how he hopes to return to Hawaii after completing his PhD.

The Journey Through the Universe program continues to expand. This year, the program reached the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex for the first time through a workshop for teachers. The workshop exposed teachers to the diverse careers in astronomy through a career panel and supported the KKP Complex’s efforts to introduce Next Generation Science Standards.

Next year, the program will reach even more students as it continues to grow. Judging from the thank you cards received, the students are looking forward to it as well.

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