Maui teens discover satellite expected to plummet to Earth on Saturday

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Photo Courtesy: NASA

Photo Courtesy: NASA

MAUI, Hawaii (KHON2) — Two Maui middle schoolers spotted a 250-pound space satellite projected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, Aug. 29.

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Under the mentorship of University of Hawaii’s (UH IfA) outreach astronomer J.D. Armstrong, Maui Waena Intermediate School eighth-graders Holden Suzuki and Wilson Chau caught sight of the satellite during an observation from the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) Faulkes Telescope on Haleakalā.

Based on the data obtained by Suzuki and Chau as well as scientists at other observatories, it was discovered that the target spotted was not an asteroid, but a satellite launched by NASA more than 50 years ago.

According to the UH IfA, OG0-1 is one of six large Orbiting Geophysical Observatory missions launched from 1964 to 1969. These satellites were some of the largest scientific satellites, designed to study Earth’s atmosphere, magnetosphere, and the space between the Earth and Moon. The last of the missions ceased operations in 1972. 

“Some people wonder if it is a good idea to put the safety of the planet in the hands of teenagers. I see them as scientists, and if they know what they are doing then age doesn’t make much difference,” said Armstrong. “I’ve seen a lot of students who do things like this end up getting college scholarships. It is great to see them get the opportunity to do real science, and then have the experience help pay for their education.”

Scientists expect the inoperative satellite, OGO-1, to break up over the South Pacific, away from inhabited areas at around 10:45 a.m.

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