mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

Tokunaga Wins Masursky Award

Maintained by LG

For immediate release
October 25, 2010


Dr. Alan Tokunaga
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Mrs. Karen Rehbock
Assistant to the Director
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa

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Alan Tokunaga and the IRTF
Alan Tokunaga on Mauna Kea with the dome of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in the background. Photo by Roy Tokunaga.

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 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.

Links for more information:
Year 2010 DPS Prize Recipients

Alan Tokunaga's Home Page


Figure 1: Alan Tokunaga on Mauna Kea with the dome of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in the background. Photo by Roy Tokunaga.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Established in 1907 and fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Hawaii is the state's sole public system of higher education. The UH System provides an array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and community programs on 10 campuses and through educational, training, and research centers across the state. UH enrolls more than 50,000 students from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and around the world.