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Lahaina Intermediate students engage in stellar space conference

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Oct 8, 2015

Brian Sandoval, a Lahaina Intermediate School eighth-grader, explained how the students wore “really cool” glasses at Space Exploration Student Day to study the sun. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

LAHAINA – The 16th annual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (AMOS) was held in September in the culturally rich setting of the Wailea Marriott Resort & Spa. Presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and numerous sponsors, the four-day event is known as the top scientific conference in the field of optics and imaging for the surveillance of space.

The conference brought together scientists from around the world to offer updates and assessments of current research in the fields of space situational awareness (SSA), space weather and related specialties in astronomy. SSA refers to knowledge of the space environment and the natural and man-made objects in orbit around the Earth.

“The long-term goal of the AMOS Conference is to increase worldwide collaboration and to ensure global safety in space,” said MEDB President and CEO Jeanne Skog. “Offering strong technical content, exhibit presentations and abundant networking opportunities, AMOS once again delivered a stellar program.”

Traffic congestion in space is a global issue. There is world-wide reliance on space capabilities for national security, telecommunications, Internet, banking, telephones, television, navigation, scientific exploration and more – hence its continual importance.

“We experienced a significant increase in international partnership this year, reflecting the global significance of tracking space objects and debris to protect commercial and military assets in space,” Skog said. “With numerous countries operating in space, the growing problem of orbital debris calls for worldwide collaboration and partnership to discover innovative solutions and strategies.”

The AMOS Conference, recognizing the need for the future generation to get involved in all areas of space exploration and technological solutions, held its sixth annual Space Exploration Student Day. Lahaina Intermediate School students were among 150 Maui middle school students challenged to reach for the stars and create paths to travel among them.

The students, introduced to space technologies via exhibits and hands-on experiments, had the opportunity to meet industry professionals and learn valuable lessons in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

“AMOS is a great opportunity for our students to engage with astronomers and other space experts,” said Monica Wilfong, Lahaina Intermediate science teacher. “With today’s technology-driven society, students need first-hand knowledge in the world of STEM. I’m so thankful to MEDB for allowing this chance to connect what the students are learning in the classroom with real world experience.”

Students were awed by the many activities available in the exhibit hall. “Exploring space will never be the same!” exclaimed Brian Sandoval, a Lahaina Intermediate eighth-grader. “Learning from real astronomers about what they do is a great experience for everyone. It helps students like me become interested in careers in science and space.”

For example, at one of the exhibits, the students wore “really cool” glasses to study the sun and learn that the diffraction gratings spread light into rainbows, what the scientists refer to as spectra. They used the glasses to look at spectral tubes that demonstrate how astronomers discover the composition of stars.

“In addition, through the discovery of exoplanets that orbit other stars, we learned that there are more places in the universe where life could exist,” said Sandoval.

Many of the students experienced STARLAB, the portable planetarium brought to the AMOS Conference Space Exploration Student Day by the University of Hawaii. The planetarium program, presented by Ryan Swindle from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Kihei, seated up to 25 students at a time and projected either a star field or set of popular constellations onto the dome.

“I structured the 15-minute show we gave at AMOS with student interaction concerning the programs AFRL and UH do on Haleakala,” said Swindle.

“I pointed out the popular constellations starting with the Big Dipper and showed how to find the North Star, Polaris,” he said. “I explained the difference in how stars are visible in urban, rural and summit environments due to the background brightness of the sky. Then, I used the planetarium dome to show what to expect that very evening at 9 p.m. on Maui.”

STARLAB is an exciting way to help students learn how ancient Polynesian navigation and space technologies were and still are used. Swindle explained how to use the Big Dipper to find Arcturus, also known as the star of Hawaii, and talked about how the stars and moon are used in the traditional-style navigation of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

Successful use of project-based activities to help inspire and excite students about space, science and technology was the AMOS take-home message for Maui students. Space Exploration Student Day was a wonderful STEM opportunity for space awareness.

Of course, one of the most popular student questions was, “Are there aliens out there?” Perhaps some of these students will find out one day.