Introducing the USAAAO Publicity Team

As an organization, we want to build and maintain an equitable atmosphere for our volunteers, team, coaches, and competitors alike. The USAAAO publicity team has been formed in order to reach out to as many high school students across the nation as possible, and to also expand access to our competition for underrepresented minority groups, as well as for students with less financial and educational opportunities . The publicity team will be the social face of USAAAO, engaging in social platforms and reaching out to schools, including schools with underrepresented population, and including them in our mission to advance astronomy and astrophysics education for everyone.

With that, here is our 2020 USAAAO Publicity Team!

Charly Castillo

I am a rising junior at the Weehawken High School in Weehawken, New Jersey. I joined the Publicity Team because I am committed to using my passions for astronomy and education equity to make an impact on other underrepresented students. As someone who was not exposed to much astronomy in school, I want students who are in a similar position as I was to be aware of the subject and the opportunities that are offered by the USAAAO. When I’m not developing our new LinkedIn page, I work as the Director of Science for a mentorship program called Mission Impassionible and read research papers on the latest astrophysical research.

Brendan Duong

I am a rising sophomore at UCSD majoring in Physics with a Specialization in Astrophysics and minoring in Mathematics.

My interest in astronomy began when I was in middle school and stumbled upon a documentary clip on gamma-ray bursts. I recall being so astonished that catastrophic events like these were happening out in space. This experience piqued my curiosity about the Universe and motivated me to continue learning about what other amazing things were happening beyond our world.

In high school, my knowledge and passion for astronomy grew through my participation in Science Olympiad’s Astronomy event. Through my studies of topics like supernovae and galaxy formation, I developed a greater appreciation for the complex principles our Universe operates upon, but also just how surreal our Universe is, from cannibalistic black holes to exploding stars.

Today, my pursuit of astronomy is still motivated by the same desire I had in middle school to learn more about the Universe. I hope that, by serving as a Publicity Officer for USAAAO, I might be able to introduce students to the field of astronomy and spark the same flame of curiosity that drives me today.

As an undergraduate, I intend on continuing my studies in Physics and Mathematics to prepare myself for a career in astrophysics research. In my free time, I enjoying playing the violin and piano, reading, and playing video games with friends.

Shaurya Jain

Sanat Kumar

My name is Sanat Kumar and I am currently a student at Lebanon Trail High School in Frisco, Texas. I love all sciences and branches of math, but I am especially fond of astrophysics, astronomy, and physics. I hope to become an astrophysicist in the future, and want to conduct research involving black holes and gamma-ray bursts. For now though, I involve myself in plenty of school activities, such as the two math & physics clubs I have founded, as well as sports. I play soccer and I also run varsity cross country and track.

Erin McConnell

I am a graduate of Dartmouth College (B.A.) and the University of Maine Climate Change Institute (M.S.), with a background in the earth and climate sciences. I am interested in communicating science to the general public in order to increase advocacy for the inclusion of scientific evidence in public policy discussions and decisions. I also want to play a role in getting younger students involved in science, which drew me to volunteer for the USAAAO.

Outside of work, I enjoy long-distance running, road trips, and hiking with my favorite adventure buddy (pictured above).

Kashvi Mundra

Hello! I’m a senior at Lambert High School in Suwanee, Georgia. I’m excited to be part of USAAAO’s Publicity Team!

My interest in astronomy and physics started in the 2nd grade purely by accident through a library book. Since then, I’ve always been intrigued with how everything in the sky works, but it wasn’t until high school that I decided I wanted to pursue the space sciences.
Recently, I took the 2020 USAAAO exam and made it to the second round, the NAO. Although this was the end of my exam journey this year, taking the exams opened my eyes to so many more topics in the realms of Astronomy and Astrophysics. I hope to share my interests and passion to more people around the nation.

I am interested in research and am currently working on a project regarding Coronal Mass Ejections.
I also enjoy the communicative arts and read anything I can get my hands on. I am also currently working on a young adult novel.

Outside of academics, I have been an Indian classical dancer for 9 years and enjoy playing three instruments and producing music.

Julyn Rose Peliña

I am a college student at Cavite State University – Naic Campus in Cavite, Philippines. I’m taking BS Secondary Education major in Science. After I finish my current course, I want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and take master’s degree in Astrophysics or Astrobiology. I’ve been fascinated with Astronomy when I was on a 4th grade. I feel mesmerize and wondrous when I’m looking at the night sky. As time goes by my passion for Astronomy deepens therefore I try to come out of my comfort zone and join at different organizations that helps me to acquire technical and life skills. I join USAAAO this 2020 to volunteer as a publicity officer because I want to help students at their Astronomy and Astrophysics education and to reach a wide range of people and introduce them with Astronomy and Space. Aside from being a publicity officer at USAAAO, I’m currently undergoing a training at OrbitX, a newly founded aerospace company here in the Philippines. I’m so astonish with spectacular celestial objects like moons, planets, nebula, and etcetera. I want to experience microgravity in space and know how rocket works and I want to become a part of space exploration. I want to become the first Filipino Astronaut. I yearn to become an astronaut someday not only because it’s my passion and to satisfy my curiosity but also to inspire, motivate, and encourage youths especially Filipino youths to pursue their dreams no matter how hard it is and no matter how long it takes to fulfill your dreams. Ad Astra Per Aspera!

Maximilian Riccioli

I am a graduating senior from Hebron High School (Carrollton, Texas), and in the fall I’ll be pursuing degrees in both engineering and astrophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.

When I was very young, I was fascinated by outer space and astronomy. As I entered into middle school, however, this enthusiasm fizzled out and was replaced with a general appreciation for science and math. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I rediscovered my love for astronomy: my physics teacher asked us to name the major stars in Orion, and I felt that I should have been able to considering how much I once enjoyed the subject. Over the next year, I dove back into astronomy and my old passion was rekindled.

In January of my senior year, I discovered the USAAAO and IOAA by chance on Wikipedia about a week and a half before the test date. Although I had general knowledge of astronomy and physics – and I studied the recommended texts furiously for that week and a half – I was ultimately one point away from advancing to the National Astronomy Competition. As a Publicity Officer, I hope to spread awareness to students so they are aware of the competition far in advance, and so they aren’t in the same position I was in.

Outside of astronomy, I like to play video games with my friends, learn miscellaneous skills (juggling, card throwing, etc.), and watch YouTube videos. This summer, I have also developed an interest in radio technology, building antennas myself and using them to download images from passing weather satellites.

Rashmi Sheoran

I’m a final year undergraduate pursuing bachelors in physics (Hons) from the University of Delhi, India. I was first exposed to astronomy through popular tv shows when I was in high school. When I came to college, my interest grew more as I started meeting like-minded people at the nearby planetarium. I haven’t had an academic connection with Astronomy because of lack of opportunities but that I explore the public outreach activities when it comes to Astronomy.
I plan to study further and get a master’s in Astrophysics but till then I want to help other students so that they know about the existing opportunities like the NAO/IOAA.

I am an amateur astronomer and I usually spend my time doing stargazing, learning astrophotography, watching anime, and doing space science communication on social media. I look forward to sharing my passion for public outreach by volunteering for USAAAO community.

Sara Anjum – Transitioning/Alumni Publicity Officer

Sara Anjum has been a lifelong astronomy enthusiast. She aspired to be an astrophysicist since second grade, and was inspired to pursue STEM to the fullest extent possible because of it. She also co-founded the USAAAO in 2013 as a high-school student, and is still actively involved in its operation. She is also involved with other physics-related outreach organizations such as Physics Unlimited, a physics outreach organization for high-school students. Currently, her research at Caltech involves the design and creation of nanowire solar cells for space-based applications.

Outside of STEM, Sara enjoys singing, dancing (ballet and hip-hop), ice-skating, and playing the piano and violin.

Through the publicity team, we hope to brighten the prospects for all students alike.

Thank you to everyone who is making our mission possible!

Global e-Competition on Astronomy and Astrophysics

The IOAA International Board is organising Global e-Competition on Astronomy and Astrophysics (GeCAA) as an alternate educational event for the benefit of students who were due to participate in IOAA this year.

The event will be held in 2 categories, individual and group.

Individual category will have one test based on theoretical problems, one on the data analysis problems, one on observation related problems. The rounds for this category will be held on September 25, 26 and 27, 2020.

In group category, the participants will be grouped in mixed
international teams by the organisers and will be given a set of tasks to
solve in a collaborative way. The teams will receive the tasks on September 28, 2020 and will have to submit their solutions by October 12, 2020.

USAAAO is delighted to be able to register all 10 students that were originally supposed to represent USA at the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad. Students have been part of the online training since mid May. Team Mentors responsible for coordinating, supervising and grading are: Thaddeus Komacek, Sandesh Kalantre, Katarine Emanuela Klitzke, and Lucas Pinheiro.

Next year, if the situation improves, IOAA will be in Colombia in September.

Call for Publicity Officers

Update – the application will be available until this Sunday, June 28th. We will start the interview process after that. If you are interested to apply in the future, look out for our next call for volunteers starting this fall.

USAAAO is looking for Publicity Officers to help us expand our outreach.

The publicity officer (as all other positions at USAAAO) is a volunteer position. You would be working alongside the other enthusiastic volunteers at USAAAO.


We are trying to significantly expand the number of students who are aware of the existence of our program, with a particular emphasis on reaching out to students of underrepresented groups.
To accomplish this, you would help aggregate contact information for high schools across the nation, and, if interested, help manage the social media platforms of the organization, as well as other strategies you are welcome to propose.


We are purposely keeping the qualifications list to a minimum, and encourage basically all interested to apply.
The main attribute would be the ability to follow directions and respect deadlines.

You also have to be above the age of 13.


Through this work you will be having a direct impact in helping students get access to astronomy and astrophysics education.

You will also gain experience working as part of a team, but also a self-driven individual accomplishing your own project goals.


The position is available immediately. Expected time commitment per week is 3-5h, but more interest is always welcomed as well.

If you are interested in applying for this position, please fill the following form:

By submitting this form you confirm you are above the age of 13.

If selected, you will hear back from us with further information.

If you have any questions about this or other volunteer positions, do not hesitate to email us at!

General Announcement

The USAAAO acknowledges the roles that systemic racism has played in shaping our society and the academic enterprise. We believe that Black lives matter, and we want to build an organization where all members of our team, coaching staff, and competitors are treated equitably and with respect. Our mission is to promote astronomy and astrophysics education for everyone. We acknowledge that we have had a lack of representation from Black students and students from underrepresented groups both in our competition and on our team. We plan to make USAAAO anti-racist, by ensuring that our competition and training are not just fair, but equitable. Toward that goal, we are implementing the following steps:

  1. All volunteers with the USAAAO will be required to do implicit bias training upon joining the group, and all current volunteers are required to complete training by July 3rd, 2020. 
  2. We will search for a publicity volunteer to help us expand our reach to groups under-represented in astronomy and astrophysics (

We look forward to expanding our efforts toward equity in astronomy and astrophysics education and using our reach as astronomy educators to work toward a better future. 

We hope you have a Happy Juneteenth!

Announcing the 2020 USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Team!

We are excited to yet again bring 10 students to the IOAA, this time to Colombia:


Leo Yao (West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North)

April Cheng (Canyon Crest Academy)

William Huang (Lynbrook High School)

Sean Chen (Canyon Crest Academy)

Max Tan (Phillips Exeter Academy)

William Li (King High School)

Adithya Balachandran (High Technology High School)

Shion Murakawa (North Hollywood High School)

Jupiter Ding (State College Area High School)

Jared Machtinger (Adlai E. Stevenson High School)

Team leaders: dr. Tad Komacek (University of Chicago) and Sandesh Kalantre (University of Maryland)

For the first time in our history, all the travel and registration costs will be covered for the entire team.

We are extremely grateful to “The Masson Family Fund” for the generous donation and to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) for their help and support.

In addition to the team, we will invite several younger participants of the NAC to join the online training. Weekly online training is scheduled to start mid May. Together with the team leaders, we have several coaches: Nima Chartab Soltani (University of California Riverside), Katarine Emanuela Klitzke (Georgia Tech), Lucas Pinheiro (University of Notre Dame), Vlad Rosca (UCLA), and Natasa Dragovic (University of Texas at Austin). In the upcoming weeks you’ll get a chance to learn more about the team and the coaches.

We understand that this year’s exam was especially difficult for several reasons, so we want to congratulate all the participants. In order to increase transparency, we gave students an option to have their score released. You can find the official National Astronomy Competition results here.

We thank again all the volunteers for all their work! If you have any questions or want to get involved next year, email us at

Grading of NAC is Complete!

We want to thank all the students for participating and quickly adapting to the new circumstances! We know and understand that everyone has been affected by the COVID-19, and some more than the others. We sincerely hope that everyone is safe and that the situation will get better soon.

We sent all the grades and will announce the team soon. We will post more detailed scores later in the week. For now, we are sharing the score histogram. If you participated and haven’t received your score, please email us at as emails sometimes bounce!

Finally we want to thank all of our volunteers for stepping up and helping out with the proctoring and making sure the National Astronomy Competition is a success.

National Astronomy Competition is Complete!

We thank everyone that participated and that made our first online exam a success! Problems and solutions are posted on the website. There were 2 versions of the exam, they differed in numerical values given in question 4. The difficulty of the exam was the same on both days. On different days students got different versions. Students should expect to hear their results in 2 weeks.

Top 10 students will be invited to represent USA at the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad and will start online training shortly after the selection is made. So far the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad is still planned to be held in September in Colombia. We will post any updates as we learn.

For any further questions, please email us at!

National Astronomy Competition is less than a week away!

This year due to recent developing events we decided to move NAC online. All registered students should have received a confirmation email together with more detailed instructions and the table of constants. Some emails bounce or go to spam, so if you know you registered and didn’t receive an email, email us at!

We understand this situation is highly stressful and unusual for everyone so we thank all the participants on understanding and their cooperation! We are trying our best to adapt and accommodate everyone.

We wish all the students the best of luck in their final preparations!

Updated March 22nd: NAC is moving Online!

Due to COVID-19 situation and the high school closures across the nation, we decided to move the NAC to online proctoring with Zoom. We are offering 2 online sessions, one on April 3rd at 8pm Eastern and one on April 4th at 9am Eastern. Students from the same school should coordinate to take the exam at the same time slot. If you haven’t received an email from us and you qualified for the National Astronomy Competition, please email us at! We will send the detailed instructions and time slot confirmation once we receive everyone’s preferences. We understand that this is not an ideal situation, but we want to ensure we can enable students to safely take the exam across the different time zones.

We expect students to comply with the standard honors code and only students that qualified will be able to take the test. The exam will be monitored by our volunteers and recorded. Any suspicious behavior will be penalized. Showing your work is mandatory in this round and just a correct answer will bring no points.

Top 10 students will represent USA at the next IOAA in Colombia in September and will begin online training shortly after this round. Organizers are monitoring the situation and will assess in June whether to postpone the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad.

We thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

COVID-19 NAC Update and the Guest Team Update

We are aware that many schools are going to be closed during the current schedule, so we are working to figure out how to manage this situation. As soon as we establish a solution we will be emailing all the students and proctors. For now students should still be ready to take the exam during the scheduled window, but potentially online. Thank you for your patience!

USAAAO will invite top 5 scoring students to be part of the main team that represents the USA at the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad in Colombia in September. Next 5 top scoring students will be invited to be a part of the USA’s guest team. All 10 students will be part of the weekly online training sessions with our coaches.

Anyone can participate in NAC but only U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents can represent USA at the IOAA.

Good luck to all the participants!

For any additional questions email us at!