NASA ITF astronomer Tokunaga wins Masursky Award

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October 27, 2010 – Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Hats off to Mauna Kea NASA telescope astronomer Alan Tokunaga.

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society conferred the 2010 Harold Masursky Award on the Maui born astronomer for his outstanding service to planetary science and exploration.

Tokunaga, who’se directed the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea since 2000, got his award at the soceity’s annual meeting earlier this month in Pasadena, California.

According to the award citation, he “has played an indispensable role in the growth of ground-based infrared astronomy of the solar system, and in furthering planetary science as a whole.”

Tokunaga said, “A lot of the credit goes to the excellent staff we have at the facility. They keep the telescope running every night.”

Tokunaga graduated from Baldwin High School on Maui, then received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Pomona College in California, and master’s and doctoral degrees in astronomy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

PRESS RELEASE, University of Hawaii

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society conferred the 2010 Harold Masursky Award on Alan Tokunaga, a Maui-born astronomer with the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, for his outstanding service to planetary science and exploration on October 6 at its annual meeting in Pasadena, Calif.

Tokunaga has served as director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea since 2000, the longest term in the history of that observatory. According to the award citation, he “has played an indispensable role in the growth of ground-based infrared astronomy of the solar system, and in furthering planetary science as a whole.”

Since he coming to UH in 1979, Tokunaga has worked on developing new instruments for the IRTF and Subaru telescopes, and under his directorship, there have been numerous improvements to the IRTF that have significantly enhanced its image quality. The IRTF supports NASA space missions by providing essential preliminary and follow-up observations of space mission targets.

Through his research, Tokunaga has made contributions to planetary science in the areas of the composition of planetary atmospheres, asteroids, and comets. His research has also delved into the composition of the interstellar medium and the formation of stars.

He has advanced infrared astronomy by standardizing the filters used by various telescopes at infrared wavelengths, and he wrote the infrared astronomy section in the latest edition of “Allen’s Astrophysical Quantities,” an important reference book for astronomers.

Upon receiving the award, Tokunaga said, “A lot of the credit goes to the excellent staff we have at the facility. They keep the telescope running every night.”

Upon hearing of that Tokunaga received the Masursky award, Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the IfA, said, “Alan Tokunaga has been doing an outstanding job as director of the IRTF. With his enormous experience, scientific skills, and dedication, he has turned the IRTF into one of the world’s most successful telescopes.”

Tokunaga graduated from Baldwin High School on Maui, then received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Pomona College in California, and master’s and doctoral degrees in astronomy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

From the Year 2010 DPS Prize Recipients webpage:

Alan Tokunaga – 2010 Masursky Award recipient
The Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society presents the 2010 Harold Masursky Award for outstanding service to planetary science and exploration to Alan Tokunaga, Astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Hawaii. As the longest-serving Division Chief (director) of NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) since 2000 and deputy director in the mid-80′s, Alan Tokunaga has played an indispensible role in the growth of ground-based infrared astronomy of the solar system, and in furthering planetary science as a whole. He has been the PI for a series of instruments for the IRTF, has strengthened the observatory so that it is a vital national and international resource, has provided wide-ranging NASA mission support, has contributed in fundamental ways to planetary science through his own research, and has furthered infrared astronomy by standardizing photometric systems and providing a compendium of our current knowledge of the field in Allen’s Astrophysical Quantities. Alan Tokunaga’s efforts have made it possible for all planetary scientists to have access to first-rate observing facilities. This includes international users, and many without access to facilities through their own institutions. Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries have been students. Many of today’s planetary scientists “learned the ropes” as students at the IRTF. Alan has been a continuous source of support and expertise to users of IRTF and visitor instruments. His calm, yet strong, personality is ideal for a director of an observatory with many users.

The number of advances and discoveries in planetary science to which Alan Tokunaga was either a direct or an indirect contributor through his research and directorship of the IRTF is too long to list here. For his exemplary and far-reaching service to the planetary community, the Division for Planetary Science is pleased to present the 2010 Harold Masursky Award to Alan Tokunaga.

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