Maunakea Scholars Awarded Observing Time at Gemini North

Maunakea Scholars Awarded Time on Gemini North

On February 3rd, Gemini awarded telescope time to two ecstatic local high school students through the Maunakea Scholars program. The Maunakea Scholars program is the first of its kind in the world, and is spearheaded by Canada-France-Hawai‘i-Telescope (CFHT). The program involves collaboration between the Maunakea observatories, high schools, and students across the state to give high school students competitive access to the world’s best telescopes on Maunakea. The students work with their teachers and mentors from the professional Hawaiian astronomy community to develop their proposals for telescope time. A time allocation panel then reviews the proposals and awards time on various Maunakea telescopes to the successful young investigators. The process is very competitive with a proposal success rate of 1 in 3, or about 33%. This year, the program awarded telescope time on Gemini, Subaru, the East Asian Observatory, and CFHT, to students from Kalani, Nānākuli, and Kapolei high schools on O‘ahu, and Waiākea and Honokaʻa high schools on Hawaiʻi Island. The East Asian Observatory (EAO), NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), and W. M. Keck Observatory will join the program for the next round of applicants.

Award ceremony at Nānākuli high school. (L-R) CFHT Director Doug Simons, Principal Darin Pilialoha, Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Jasmin Atcherson, David Lassner, Mary Beth Laychak, Jameeka Marshall.

Award ceremony at Kapolei. (L-R) front row: Kelly Blumenthal (IfA Mānoa graduate student and MK Scholars mentor), Chantelle Lopez, Ashlyn Takamiya. Back row: Nadiah Gamurot, Heather Flewellings (IfA research astronomer and MK Scholar mentor), Emily Little, CFHT Director Doug Simons, Justin Fernando, Mary Beth Laychak.

Gemini North Observing Programs

The two successful Gemini proposals both featured exoplanets. Chantelle Lopez (Kapolei) will be looking for signs of Hydrogen in the atmosphere of Gu PSC b through planetary transit spectroscopy to gain some insights as to the likelihood of there being liquid water on the planet. Jasmine Atcherson (Nānākuli) will look at a rogue planet (a planet not obviously attached to a host star) to try and determine its age and gain clues about its origin. Congratulations to Jasmine and Chantelle, the latest Gemini Maunakea Scholar awardees!


Get to Know Gemini! – Jen Miller

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.


Name: Jennifer (Jen) Miller

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Science Operations Specialist (SOS) at Gemini North

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

The SOS position encompasses both daytime and nighttime shift work. During the day I check data from the night before for quality assurance, check the instruments on the telescope to make sure they are optimal for nighttime operations, and work on various projects that benefit the observatory. At night I acquire scientific data for PIs so that they can make cutting edge astronomical discoveries and further humankind’s understanding of the Universe.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I’ve worked at Gemini for a little over three years.

What drew you to this job?

Working on the front line of astronomy.

What is the best part of your job?

Prior to going back to school for astronomy I worked as a professional photographer for many years. The best thing about my job is that I get to play with a gigantic camera and take amazing photographs of the universe.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I was born in Alaska, lived in California as a young kid, but mostly grew up in the Maryland/Washington DC area.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Problem solving is an important skill to have for this job.

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy was important in early civilization from growing crops to the invention of calendars. Today astronomy is important for advancing technology (MRI, X-ray, lasik, etc…) to finding “the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” –Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What is your favorite movie?

Pulp Fiction or Amelie or The Princess Bride

What is the latest book you have read?

The Martian

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

Radiohead “Pablo Honey”
Dinosaur Jr. “Where You Been”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Fever to Tell”

What is one hobby of yours?

Japanese taiko

Favorite beverage?


Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Gemini hosts Astronomy on Tap, Hilo

Combining the Powers of Space and Drink:

Gemini Observatory hosts Hawaii’s first Astronomy on Tap

Who: You (and your friends 21 years and older)

What: Astronomy on Tap, Hilo

When: Wednesday, February 22nd, 7:00 – 9:00 pm

Where: Hilo Town Tavern, 168 Keawe St, Hilo, HI 96720

Why: To learn about the cosmos in a casual, fun and inclusive learning environment while enjoying beverages and bar games!

What better way to learn about the wonders of the Universe than relaxing at the Hilo Town Tavern with friends and listening to local astronomers share their discoveries? For those with or without a background in astronomy, Astronomy on Tap, Hilo is an event you will not want to miss.

“Astronomy on Tap is an experiment for Hilo,” said Peter Michaud, manager of the Gemini Observatory’s Education and Outreach Department. “Most of our outreach programs are aimed at students, teachers and families, but this program is VERY different!”

The event, organized by Gemini Observatory, is based on similar events around the world that bring the science of astronomy to pubs and bars. “I am so excited to provide the adults of Hilo with a casual, free and fun place to learn about the cosmos.” said Sylvia Kowalski, intern at the Gemini Observatory, who organized the event. “In this setting there are no silly questions, just curiosity and fun.” adds Kowalski.

The Astronomy on Tap, Hilo poster advertising the Big Island event.

This Astronomy on Tap is “extra special,” says Kowalski, “because founding member of the Astronomy on Tap program Meg Schwamb is now an astronomer at the Gemini Observatory and will share her tales from the outer solar system at our inaugural event.” In addition, the bar’s stage will be graced with the genius of Alison Peck, Atsuko Nitta, and André-Nicolas Chené, all astronomers at Gemini Observatory. Each will share their backgrounds in science and take you on a tour of their research through the cosmos.

Schwamb and her colleague Emily Rice started the Astronomy on Tap program in 2012 in New York City. Since its inception, more than 15 cities host Astronomy on Tap events, including sites in the United States, Canada, and Taiwan.

Clockwise starting top left: Astronomy on Tap, Hilo speakers, Meg Schwamb, André-Nicolas Chené, Alison Peck, and Atsuko Nitta.

“It is important for us adults to stay curious and to learn,” says André-Nicolas Chené. “This will be the perfect venue for both – and why not combine two wonderful things – science and beer which make a great team!

Thanks to the Hilo Town Tavern for hosting our inaugural event. Visit our event on Facebook, follow us the event on Twitter @AstroOnTapHilo, and read about the history of the program at the Astronomy on Tap Website.

Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash: Free, Frozen, Family Fun

Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash: Free, Frozen, Family Fun

The verdict is in on Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash… The evening was an Astro-Blast!!! Aunty Mimi held her inaugural Astro-Bash located at the Hilo Public Library on January 11th. More than 140 people packed onto the Library lanai to enjoy a free night of hands on activities, give-aways, and a “cool” live science show.

A library display case advertising the event. Created by Gemini Intern and Astro-Bash organizer, Sylvia Kowalski.


With over 140 people enjoying the event, our visitors had to squeeze close to neighbors, friends and strangers in order to catch a glimpse of Aunty Mimi’s live science show.


Gemini staff Alyssa Grace teaches visitors how to build their own spectroscopes.

Visitors got a chance to make pocket sized solar systems, take-home spectroscopes, design flags for their favorite planets, and decorate their face with “space” paint!

Gemini staff member Alexis Acohido provides space-themed face paint to an excited and patient visitor.

Visitors helped Aunty Mimi cook up some comets multiple times, marveling at the sublimating ice ball, and the free posters featuring some of Gemini Observatories most stunning Legacy Images were a hit!

Astro-Bash visitors enjoyed free Gemini posters and coupons for free ice cream cone from local restaurant, Kozmic Cones.

The most memorable part of the night for most of our guests was the vibrant live science show given by “Aunty Mimi”; known off stage as Miriam Fuchs, astrophysicist of the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Submillimeter Array.

Aunty Mimi intrigues the live science crowd with a dance about how atoms interact in different states of matter.

Not only did she get parents and children dancing like atoms and singing about states of matter, she amazed our audience with the wonders of the extreme temperatures of space. Balloons froze, flames flew, plasma surged, all with a comedic flare that captivated the audience. Each wild experiment was carefully connected back to her theme of real (and sometimes tricky) astronomical concepts. The Big Island community has certainly found something special in the talents of Miriam Fuchs.

Aunty Mimi makes a nebula in the library by mixing warm water and liquid nitrogen (LN2) in a plastic bucket. Even though the LN2 is way too cold to touch, the cloud vapor is safe to interact with.


Aunty Mimi introduces her trustee lab assistant, Mr. Balloon Buddy.


Aunty Mimi experiments with states of matter by adding lycopodium powder to a flame and observing the fiery outcome while Helle Fukamizu interprets the experiments to our d/Deaf community members.

A great big thank you to Kozmic Cones, a local restaurant across from the Hilo Public Library, for their generous support. Thanks to their donations, our first 50 visitors received a free ice cream cone coupon and each of our raffle winners enjoyed a $10 coupon for any meal of their choice.

Kozmic Cones, a local institution in the heart of Hilo, donated significant coupons and prizes for our event.

With so much interest in the event, the Astro-Bash is not stopping with Hilo. Aunty Mimi is going on tour across the island to dazzle audiences at the Kona Public Library in late March. Who knows? Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash may stop by in a town near you! Check out our Journey through the Universe website for more events as we near our flagship week of astronomy education island wide March 10th – 17th.

Get to Know Gemini! – Markus Kissler-Patig

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.


Name: Markus Kissler-Patig

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Director – who acts for all of Gemini (North and South)

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

The Director has internal and external duties. Externally, I work with the partner countries, represented by the Gemini Board of Directors, on the general scientific strategy and the budget. Internally, I provide the necessary leadership to ensure smooth operations of the observatory, as well as encouraging ideas that will improve it.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

A little over 4 years now.

What drew you to this job?

The international character of Gemini and the challenge to run an observatory split over two continents.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with a wide diversity of fantastic people.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Jurassic park (the real one, not the movie) at the boarder of France and Switzerland.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Human nature

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy answers some of the most profound questions that humans have and that make them what they are.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

My PhD thesis delt with investigating extragalactic star clusters as the skeleton of galaxies, providing clues to their formation and evolution. As some of the oldest objects in the universe, globular clusters revealed a number of constraints on the whereabouts of their host galaxies.

What are your current research interests?

Intermediate-mass black holes, and super-massive black hole evolution; and atmospheres of exoplanets in the context of astrobiology (that I teach at the University of Hawaii and University of Munich).

What is your favorite movie?

No favorite, but among my favorites are the movies of Aki Kaurismäki (top: La vie de Bohème) and Wim Wenders (top: Der Himmel über Berlin), as well as Jim Jarmush’s movies (top: Mystery Train)

What is the latest book you have read?

“Retour a Reims” by sociologist Didier Eribon – an autobiographic essay about the life-long impact that the social class in which we grew up in, as well as our sexual orientation have on our lives.

In parallel I am currently reading “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean Carroll – a great summary of the current state of Evolutionary-Developmental biological research

What is one hobby of yours?


Favorite beverage?

… depends on the circumstance, but generally plain water.

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!