High school graduate studies dark matter atop Mauna Kea

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Keilani Steele is making quite an impression on astronomers. She’s earned time to use the largest telescope in the world on two separate occasions.

Steele graduated from Honokaa High School this year. She’s part of the Mauna Kea Scholars program which is in ten Hawaii public schools. The program allows students to apply for time on a telescope atop Mauna Kea, which is highly competitive even among professional astronomers.

Steele won time last year and again this year. She’s the first high school graduate to observe at the Keck Observatory.

For two hours on Friday Steele got to conduct professional, astronomical observations at Keck. She looked into the Milky Way’s nearby Draco Dwarf Galaxy to map out the velocity of stars to figure out the distribution of dark matter in that galaxy.

Steele said, “The reason for getting into astronomy is a question I still ask myself because I don’t know, it’s just the vastness. How little we are compared to all the celestial objects just fascinates me. I’m just trying to look for answers. Complex answers that make sense.”

Mary Beth Laychak, the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) Outreach Coordinator said, “Keilani wanting to study the dark matter distribution and the dwarf galaxy, that’s a graduate level idea. This program is sustained across the observatories. We have observing time that is almost priceless. And these Hawaii public high school students have the opportunity to do things that a lot of professional astronomers would really be envious.”

The hope is Steele and other Hawaii public school students can use this experience for scholarships and in college applications, ultimately coming back to Hawaii and getting a job in our high tech, STEM industries.
 

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