From Honokaa to a distant starburst galaxy: Maunakea Scholars present discoveries at West Hawaii Science Fair

  • Students and starbursts Page 8B

KAILUA-KONA — All five students who received Maunakea Scholars telescope time from Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) last year competed in the West Hawaii Science Fair Feb. 17 at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) in Kona.

One team came in second in the science division and will be going to compete in the state science fair on Oahu later this month. It was the first time in years that students from Honokaa High &Intermediate School competed in a science fair.

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Kaitlin Villafuerte, Marie-Claire Ely and Anika Wiley from Honokaa High studied the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) for their project titled, “Possibility of Life on Saturn.” They looked for evidence of bio markers on the moon, the building blocks of life. While they did not find life on Titan, they were able to characterize its atmosphere.

Keilani Steele and Hoku Sanchez, also from Honokaa High, observed the large dark nebula 483 (LDN 483) with optical and infrared cameras to study the nebula’s connection to star formation in their project, “Dark Nebulae and their Connection to Star Formation.” Within their nebula, they discovered an object known as a Herbig-Haro. It includes areas formed when jets of ionized gas are ejected by newly formed stars. These jets collide with the surrounding gas at speeds of several hundreds of miles per hour. The Herbig-Haro region in LDN483 has only one scientific paper written about it prior to the students’ work. They calculated the size of the HH object at 1.6 light years, and placed second in the senior science division.

They will be advancing to the state science fair in Honolulu. Steele and Sanchez are the first Honokaa High students to advance to the state science fair in their teacher’s memory.

Shanen Arellano from Kealakehe High School studied “Does Metallicity Affect the Shape and Size of a Star-Forming Nebula?” focusing on stars with existing metallicity measurements. Metallicity is the analysis of the composition of an object, primarily focusing on the percentage not made up of hydrogen and helium. She aims to study the connection between the metallicity of a nebula and its shape with an instrument at CFHT this May.

Amanda Schiff, also from Kealakehe High, plans to further study star burst galaxies. Her project this year is, “Composition and Formation of Secluded Starburst Galaxies.” The average galaxy like the Milky Way forms one star per year on average. Starburst galaxies average many more, sometimes hundreds of stars per year. Most starburst galaxies are in the process of merging with another galaxy. These starbursts were the focus of Schiff’s project this year. Next year, she will use CFHT to study an isolated starburst galaxy, one that is not interacting with another galaxy gravitationally, but still undergoing massive star formation.

Nathan Weir and Mason Solmonson from Kealakehe High are both advancing to the Hawaii State Science Fair for non-astronomy projects. Weir’s team won the senior engineering division with a project called “Implementation of NIR Spectroscopy in an Automobile to detect BAC.” His team members include Brock Taylor and Alex Scott.

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Solmonson won the senior science division with his project, “The Prevention of Mold Growth.” Next year, he and Weir plan to use data from CFHT and the Gemini Observatory to compare black holes.

The Hawaii State Science Fair will be March 28 through 30 in Honolulu.

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