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film crew
TV crew films J.D. Armstrong on Haleakalā

The award-winning television show, Xploration Awesome Planet will feature University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) education and outreach specialist, J.D. Armstrong and his students on Saturday, May 15, at 2:30 p.m. on KHON. The Earth science series, which airs on FOX channels nationwide, will showcase Armstrong and three of his students who are part of IfA mentorship program, HI STAR (Hawaiʻi Student/Teacher Astronomy Research).

Philippe Cousteau
Xploration Awesome Planet is hosted by legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, Philippe.

Armstrong, who is based on Maui, mentors intermediate and high schoolers. Students are given access to observational data from telescopes on Haleakalā, such as the Las Cumbres Observatory Faulkes Telescope North, Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System and UH’s PAN-STARRS, the world’s leading Near Earth Object (NEO) discovery telescope.

“The students I’m working with do some pretty amazing work,” explained Armstrong. “Take this situation as an example. An object was detected that was going to impact the earth, and I called these guys. It might bother some people to think that the safety of the world might end up in the hands of some teenagers, but it shouldn’t. They know what they are doing.”

atlas telescope
Armstrong’s students access observational data from telescopes on Haleakalā, including ATLAS. (Photo credit: Henry Weiland)

Observational data has led HI STAR students to make cutting-edge discoveries including a potentially hazardous NEO. Armstrong’s students Wilson Chau and Holden Suzuki, who are also set to appear on Saturday’s TV episode, netted national headlines in 2020 after they helped scientists determine a 1,070-pound space satellite would explode over the South Pacific. 15-year-old Jed Orion Teagarden, who earned top honors for his research on a comet-like asteroid, and co-authored more than a dozen Minor Planet Center circulars will be featured, as well.

HI STAR has mentored more than 100 students in Hawaiʻi. Many have gone on to pursue careers in astronomy and physics. Armstrong’s students are regular winners in the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair and have competed in events at the international level.

This outreach is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of two goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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