The Rigakubu News

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First Students to Represent Japan at the International Astronomy Olympiad

Keito Aonuma (Department of Earth and Planetary Environmental Science, 4th year)

The 26th International Astronomy Olympiad (XXVI IAO: II International Remote Astronomy Olympiad) was held online from October 15 to 24, 2022, from Matera in southern Italy. The Japanese delegation participated remotely from the University of Tokyo's Kiso Observatory. The International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) is a competition for junior and senior high school students to test their knowledge, thinking ability, and skills in astronomy. Japan sent three high school students and two junior high school students as representatives. Although this was the first time for Japan to send representatives to the IAO, the students did very well, winning three bronze medals.

As a member of the Japan Astronomy Olympiad (JAO) committee, I have been involved in the organization and management of the competition, and I am currently serving as the vice-president. For a long time, there has been no scientific Olympiad organization for astronomy in Japan, and there have been few opportunities for junior and senior high school students who aspire to study astronomy to participate in world-class competitions. In order to take a step forward from this situation, a committee was formed by volunteers, mostly students, including those with experience in other science Olympiads, to dispatch a representative to the IAO. I had participated in the International Geoscience Olympiad and the International Geography Olympiad, and I decided to join the JAO committee to make use of my experience.

This year's IAO consisted of a theory exam on the 17th, a visual (maps and images) exam on the 18th, and a practical exam on the 19th.

The theoretical exam on the 17th was an exam to evaluate each competitor's thinking ability through general astronomy questions, and many of the questions were theoretical in nature. The visual examination, held on the 18th, was an alternative to the observational examination. Questions were on the identification of celestial objects and their positions on the celestial sphere, which were relatively easy to answer for students who had a lot of experience in astronomical observations. The practical examination on the 19th, the last day of the course, required students to answer questions based on actual observation data, and many students seemed to have difficulty in this practical examination, which is similar to the study of astronomy.

The exam was supervised remotely by the IAO committee. Although there were no communication problems with the local Italians, there were many technical problems with remote printing and webcam photography. There were some cases that caused delays in the examinations or made the local committee wait, and the difficulty of conducting the examinations remotely was recognized once again.

The opening ceremony was broadcast live from the International Space Station (ISS) on the 16th, and messages from astronauts were delivered to the audience. 24th, the closing ceremony and awards ceremony was held, and interviews were conducted with students from each team. The bronze medalist from Japan, Mr. Han Yue Sun, a junior at Komaba High School attached to the University of Tsukuba, gave an interview in English, sharing his impressions of the competition and his thoughts on the examinations.

Figure: A student representing Japan poses for the IAO in front of the 05cm Schmidt telescope building (Photo by Tatsuya Ohira, JAO committee member)

Since the IAO held the meeting online, there were no excursions or other opportunities for international exchanges. We, the JAO Committee, were able to visit the 105cm Schmidt Telescope and other facilities at Kiso Observatory through the kindness of the Kiso Observatory. During the rest of the day, the students deepened their friendship through nighttime astronomical observations.

As mentioned earlier, this was the first year for Japan to send a delegate to the IAO. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the IAO Committee, JAO Committee, Kiso Observatory, and everyone who supported us.

*There are some changes in the November issue of the Science Essay due to an error in the tallying of the International Astronomy Olympiad scores.

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Published in the November 2022 issue of Faculty of Science News