Estonian student made history at International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics

Kairi Janson | 21.11.2017

An Estonian student can be considered one of the absolute winners of this year’s International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) because his team won the team competition. Estonians also had great results individually. The event took place from November 12 to 21, 2017 in Phuket, Thailand.

IAAO 2017 Tais

Five students represented Estonia:

  • Nikita Polyakov (Tallinn Secondary School of Science, 12th grade)
  • Hannes Kuslap (Hugo Treffner Gymnasium, 11th grade)
  • Richard Luhtaru (Hugo Treffner Gymnasium, 11th grade)
  • Jarl Patrick Paide (Tallinn Secondary School of Science, 10th grade)
  • Kaarel Kivisalu (Tallinn Secondary School of Science, 10th grade)

Tõnis Eenmäe and Tiit Sepp went to Phuket as supervisors.

History was made at the team competition

At the team competition of IOAA, teams made up of students from different countries had to solve an escape room type of task using the motion of the night sky to find a location.

Estonian students were extremely successful at the team competition: Hannes Kuslap’s team were the absolute winners. It was the first absolute victory of an international olympiad of astronomy in the history. Kaarel Kivisalu’s team were outstanding as well and received the third place.

Team supervisor Sepp said it were the great results at the team competition that surprised him the most: as far as he knows, no Estonian student has received the absolute winner award at a global olympiad.

Two individual medals

The individual part consisted of three stages:

  • Theoretical Exam - a task for testing students’ theoretical knowledge,
  • Data Analysis Exam - a paper- or computer-based task for analysing actual data
    obtained from professional astronomers,
  • Observational Exam - questions concerning direct observation of the sky.

The students could gain 600 points in total. Compared to earlier years, this year’s competition was more mathematical and time-consuming which is why the tasks often needed long solutions.

Richard Luhtaru was the best among Estonians: he earned 411 points and the silver medal. Nikita Polyakov received the bronze medal and Kaarel Kivisalu got a diploma. The winner of IOAA was Slovenian student Alexey Jurca. Other Estonians to participate were Jarl Patrick Paide who was the fourth among Estonians and Hannes Kuslap (who won the team competition) who was the fifth among Estonians.

The organizers had also prepared a cultural programme. The participants could see the sights of Phuket. Suitably for a tropical island, they could get to know the variety of plants and animals and the beautiful sea of Phuket.

47 countries were represented at IOAA. Up to five students could participate from each country.

The olympiad took place for the 11th time. Many Thai education institutes co-operated in organizing the event, for example POSN (The Promotion of Academic Olympiad and Development of Science Education Foundation under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra), Prince of Songkla University, National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (Public Organization) and the Ministry of Education.

Estonian students were sent to Thai with the help from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research and the University of Tartu Youth Academy. Tartu Observatory supported the students’ training camps.

More information: Tiit Sepp, supervisor of Estonian team,, tel: +372 5516983