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Tokunaga Wins Masursky Award

Alan Tokunaga. Photo by K. Teramura.

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society conferred the 2010 Harold Masursky Award on IfA astronomer Alan Tokunaga for his outstanding service to planetary science and exploration on October 6 at its annual meeting in Pasadena, California.

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 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." 

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.