Astronomer Alan Tokunaga wins planetary sciences award

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Dr. Alan Tokunaga, (808) 956-6691
Director, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Institute for Astronomy
Karen Rehbock, 1-808-956-6829
Assistant to the IFA Director, Institute for Astronomy
Posted: Oct 25, 2010

Alan Tokunaga on Mauna Kea with the dome of the NASA IRTF in the background (Photo by Roy Tokunaga).
Alan Tokunaga on Mauna Kea with the dome of the NASA IRTF in the background (Photo by Roy Tokunaga).

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society conferred the 2010 Harold Masursky Award on Alan Tokunaga, a Maui-born astronomer with the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy, for his outstanding service to planetary science and exploration at its annual meeting on October 6 in Pasadena, California.

Tokunaga has served as director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea since 2000, the longest term in the history of that observatory. According to the award citation, he “has played an indispensable role in the growth of ground-based infrared astronomy of the solar system, and in furthering planetary science as a whole.”

Since he came to UH Mānoa in 1979, Tokunaga has worked on developing new instruments for the IRTF and Subaru telescopes, and under his directorship, there have been numerous improvements to the IRTF that have significantly enhanced its image quality. The IRTF supports NASA space missions by providing essential preliminary and follow-up observations of space mission targets.

Through his research, Tokunaga has made contributions to planetary science in the areas of the composition of planetary atmospheres, asteroids, and comets.  His research has also delved into the composition of the interstellar medium and the formation of stars.

He has advanced infrared astronomy by standardizing the filters used by various telescopes at infrared wavelengths, and he wrote the infrared astronomy section in the latest edition of “Allen’s Astrophysical Quantities,” an important reference book for astronomers.

Upon receiving the award, Tokunaga said, “A lot of the credit goes to the excellent staff we have at the facility. They keep the telescope running every night.” 

Upon hearing of that Tokunaga received the Masursky award, Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the IfA, said, “Alan Tokunaga has been doing an outstanding job as director of the IRTF. With his enormous experience, scientific skills, and dedication, he has turned the IRTF into one of the world’s most successful telescopes.”

Tokunaga graduated from Baldwin High School on Maui, then received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Pomona College in California, and master’s and doctoral degrees in astronomy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

For more information on the award, visit: or Tokunaga's home page at:

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