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Journey Through the Universe 2021

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Journey Through the Universe 2021 poster. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA
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NOIRLab celebrates 17 years of the flagship outreach program in Hawai‘i with a packed online educational schedule.

Journey Through the Universe — which, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place entirely online for the first time in 2021 — will share the wonders of the Universe and the possibilities of a career in science and technology with school students on Hawai‘i Island. This year’s iteration of the flagship astronomy education and outreach program is highlighted by a week of virtual educational programming from 1 to 5 March 2021.

Journey Through the Universe, an education program of NSF’s NOIRLab, promotes science education across the east and north Hawai‘i Island school districts and fosters curiosity and wonder about our Universe. The program shares the cutting-edge research and technology that allows us to understand our place in the cosmos, inspiring students to develop scientific literacy and explore their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). This year’s online format is designed to recreate the inspiration of past years while limiting the risk to educators and participants.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in astronomy to be inspiring young students”, said Jen Lotz, director of the international Gemini Observatory, a program of NOIRLab.  “New instruments, new ways of examining data, and new large collaborative astronomy programs are revolutionizing how we study the Universe — there has never been a better time to inspire young people to join the field.”

“It has been a challenge to adapt Journey’s usual face-to-face format to the demands of the pandemic,” explained Janice Harvey, NOIRLab’s Hawaiʻi Education and Engagement Manager. “But the Journey team and our volunteer educators have put together an outstanding program and we’re looking forward to inspiring more students to learn about astronomy and our place in the Universe.”

Outside of the classroom, part of the team behind Journey Through the Universe was featured on 3 February 2021’s Live from NOIRLab, a weekly live educational event on the NOIRLab's YouTube channel. In this event,  Alyssa Leinani Lozi, Outreach Assistant, Esther Kanehailua, Hilo-Waiākea, Complex Area Superintendent of the Hawai‘i State Department of Education, and Angelic Ebbers, Astronomy Educator and Software Operations Group Lead at Gemini Observatory discussed the Journey program and its long history of successes.

“The Journey Through the Universe partnership with Gemini Observatory is one of the longest and most impactful that I know of for the Hawai‘i District Department of Education,” explained Kanehailua. “For 17 years the dedicated staff from all of the Maunakea Observatories have visited our classrooms with incredible energy and a passion for exploration and our island, inspiring our future leaders.”

As well as educational experiences, Journey astronomy and science educators will also provide career panels throughout the week to inform students about educational possibilities and career opportunities available at observatories and within the field of astronomy. 

“This is an important opportunity to make contact with kids at an earlier age, exposing them to the opportunities that exist in their local community, and encouraging them to aim high,” explained John Vierra, Gemini’s Safety Coordinator and career panel participant. “The panels are planned to inspire students to think outside the box and about what they want to accomplish later in life.”

Journey Through the Universe is also partnering with local radio stations on 3 March 2021 to broadcast a free public talk, which will also be streamed live to NOIRLab’s Youtube channel. The talk features Lars Lindberg Christensen, NOIRLab’s Head of Communications, Education & Engagement, who will describe the exciting future of ground-based astronomy. The online audience will be able to ask questions and discuss the talk before enjoying virtual stargazing from Hawaiʻi and Arizona.

Another annual Journey event will be taking place virtually this year, the Astronomy Educators Reception presented by the Hawai‘i Island and Japanese Chambers of Commerce celebration on 1 March. This thank you celebration will include over 40 staff members from the Department of Education, our astronomy community and the broad business community on the Big Island.  

Originally developed by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE), Journey has expanded each year since its introduction in Hawai‘i by the staff of the Gemini Observatory in 2004. Last year alone, the Journey program reached over 8800 students in 300 classrooms thanks to the combined efforts of more than 80 astronomy educators sharing their passion for science and the generous support of sponsors at the local and national level. This year sees the second year that Journey has been extended to the island of Maui by the Daniel. K. Inouye Solar Telescope team at the National Solar Observatory.

“Journey Through the Universe would not succeed without the help of our community partners and sponsors, including the Department of Education, Hawai‘i Island business community, Maunakea Observatories, and NASA, among many others,” concluded Janice Harvey. “Their continued support is a demonstration of their commitment to our community and the future of science education for Hawai‘i students.”

Journey Through the Universe begins on Monday, 1 March 2021. This year’s first presentation will be by Alex Lockwood at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) — STScI is taking part in Journey for the first time. Grade 7 and 8 students will hear about NASA’s next space telescope in Unfolding Cosmic History with the James Webb Space Telescope.



Janice Harvey
Hawaiʻi Education and Engagement Manager
Cell: +1 808 315-1418

Amanda Kocz
Press and Internal Communications Officer
Cell: +1 626 524 5884

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