Montana State University

MSU alum selected for inaugural class of astronomy educator program

June 29, 2015 -- MSU News Service

Ryan Hannahoe, an MSU alumnus and Montana middle school science teacher, stands by the Southern Astrophysical Research 4.1 meter telescope at Cerro Pachon in Chile. Hannahoe is one of nine members of an international astronomy educators program to be selected for the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambasador Program. Photo courtesy of Tim Spuck.

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A Montana middle school science teacher and Montana State University alumnus has been selected as one of nine members of a new, international astronomy educator program.

Ryan Hannahoe was selected from a pool of more than 50 applicants by a group of leading U.S. astronomy organizations and observatories to travel to Chile as part of the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program. Since 2012, Hannahoe has been a science teacher at Monforton School in Gallatin County. This fall, he will begin science and math teaching at Clancy School near Helena. He graduated from MSU's College of Education, Health and Human Development in 2012. 

The United States operates and supports leading astronomy research facilities in Chile that are providing important information for understanding the universe. These observatories, at between 7,000 and 16,500 feet above sea level, take advantage of the superb observing conditions available at high altitudes where less of the earth's atmosphere interferes with the telescopes' observations. Additionally, the telescopes are located in desert-like areas where clouds rarely obscure the night sky. 

While in Chile, Hannahoe and the other ambassadors will receive an in-depth, behind-the-scenes education on the instruments, science and research coming out of some of the world’s most productive and advanced astronomy observatories. In addition, participants will learn communication skills to help them share science with others.

"ACEAP has been a tremendous opportunity for me to learn about the U.S. facilities and research taking place in Chile," Hannahoe said via email from Chile. "It is because of the science taking place here in Chile that we are re-writing what we know about the universe. For example, the ALMA array can observe the formation of solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy as they are forming with unprecedented accuracy. I plan to bring and communicate this vital resource to teachers, students and the general public throughout Montana and beyond."

Hannahoe is posting about his trip on his public Facebook page at

The Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program, ACEAP, is a collaborative project of Associated Universities, Inc., the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and Gemini Observatory. It is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Ambassadors were selected based on their demonstrated passion and skill in communicating astronomy in formal and informal educational settings, according to the organization.

Hannahoe has been imaging the night sky digitally since 2001. Several of his deep-sky images have been featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Before becoming a teacher, Hannahoe worked for New Mexico Skies Observatories, where he provided technical support for telescope projects for NASA, NOAO, Caltech and PBS. He has contributed educational content for NASA and the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum.

Hannahoe also serves on the Education and Public Outreach Team for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). He has represented NASA to thousands of students, teachers and community members across the country. His efforts with JWST have been recognized with the John C. Mather Nobel Scholar Award. During the summer months, Hannahoe is the director of STEM camps for the Montana Learning Center (MLC), where he leads instruction for their Innovations in Engineering & Science camps. He is currently pursuing a master's of science in science education at MSU.

The nine-day training in late June will include stops at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Gemini South Observatory, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

“The way astronomy is done has changed significantly over the past 50 years. ACEAP will help learners of all ages understand the current practice and the significant investment the United States is making in remote parts of the world to unlock the secrets of the universe,” said Tim Spuck, principal investigator for the ACEAP project and education officer for Associated Universities, Inc. “Each ambassador has demonstrated exceptional dedication to science outreach and will be able to take this experience and multiply its impact by sharing it with others.”

ACEAP takes a shared-cost approach, so the majority of the cost for each ambassador is covered by the NSF grant. Airfare, however, is the responsibility of each ambassador.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Ryan Hannahoe,