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Maui Waena Intermediate students Wilson Chau and Holden Suzuki are over the moon after making the biggest discovery of their young lives. The eighth graders, mentored by University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) outreach astronomer J.D. Armstrong, helped scientists determine a 1,070-pound space satellite would explode over the South Pacific on August 29. The discovery made headlines across local and national media outlets, including TV news broadcast, Good Morning America.

“When we found out that our data was helping scientists, I felt star struck,” said Suzuki. “It really makes me feel good thinking that even a kid like me whose family isn’t particularly wealthy can make a huge difference and really help people who change the world.”

Holden Suzuki and Wilson Chau
From left, Wilson Chau and Holden Suzuki

The inoperative object safely shattered high in the sky halfway between Tahiti and the Cook Islands as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. On August 26, Chau and Suzuki scrambled to get data from the Las Cumbres Observatory Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakalā after NASA issued a notification that an object would likely come close to Earth.

Observations obtained by the Maui middle schoolers and other observatories, including the UH ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) helped reveal the object was satellite OGO-1 launched by NASA more than 50 years ago. The satellite is one of six large Orbiting Geophysical Observatory missions launched from 1964 to 1969 designed to study Earth’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and the space between the Earth and Moon. According to NASA, OGO-1’s descent is a normal occurrence for retired spacecraft and poses no threat to Earth.

The discovery has motivated Chau and Suzuki to continue to pursue science-focused studies and look to future careers in the field. “Astronomy has always excited my mindset from the endless possibilities that could be discovered in the vast area of space and being able to learn great science all around,” Chau said.

Chau dreams of working in STEM and hopes to jet off to college on a full scholarship. Suzuki aspires to a career in astrophysics. He aims to study exoplanets or asteroids.

Before they helped detect the falling satellite, both boys had already turned heads in the local science community. Their observations of the famous SpaceX Tesla launch earned them top awards at science and engineering fairs at both the county and state level.

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