Friday, September 17, 1999

Subaru telescope
This new photo of the Ring Nebula in the constellation
Lyra, taken via Japan's Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea
on the Big Island, shows loops, knots and other details in
a fuzzy outer halo of gas. The Ring Nebula lies about 1,600
light years from Earth. Though the Subaru telescope isn't
even fully functional, it is providing images never seen
before. Today, the telescope was to be officially dedicated.

Subaru telescope
already a success

The Mauna Kea telescope won't
be fully operational for another year,
but it's promptly making its mark

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Another year will pass before Japan's huge Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea is fully functional, but the scientific team at the observatory has already staked out a piece of sky.

They call it the Subaru Deep Field.

Subaru is the Japanese name for stars called Pleiades in English.

The "deep field" is a region over the north pole that looks pitch black to the naked eye.

The light-gathering power of Subaru's main 27-foot-wide mirror shows it to be positively littered with red, white, blue and yellow galaxies.

Some are so far away that their light began its journey to earth 10 billion years ago.

The Subaru staff released a photo of the area yesterday in preparation for today's ceremonies dedicating the new telescope.

A measure of the national pride involved is the participation of Princess Sayako in the ceremonies at the 2.6-mile-high summit.

Another measure of the success of the project is the fact that Japan had never before made a telescope with a mirror bigger than about 2 meters, or 6 feet.

With Subaru, they jumped over the intermediate stage of 4 meters that other nations went through to build the present 8.3-meter (27-foot) instrument, said staff astronomer Chris Simpson.

It was a tremendous financial undertaking.

The Keck I telescope at the summit, with a larger, 10-meter mirror composed of segments fitted together, unlike Subaru's single piece of glass, cost $97 million.

Subaru cost $377 million, said observatory member Tetsuhara Fuse.

Project director Norio Kaifu said the price can be misleading. The cost of living in Tokyo is twice that of New York, for example.

And the price includes many items not included in American cost figures, such as whole research facilities in Japan that were built in preparation for the project, he said.

The effort paid off in an extremely versatile instrument.

In a single image, it can see the whole moon, an object too big for other such telescopes, said staff astronomer Ian Shelton.

Or it can see a feature as small as a quarter-mile-long on the moon's surface, he said.

Besides the Deep Field, the observatory released two other images.

One shows the Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra, which is well known to astronomers.

Astronomers also knew about a fuzzy outer halo of gas in the ring.

A new Subaru image shows loops, knots and other details in the halo not seen before.

A third image shows for the first time an X-shaped structure surrounding a radio-wave-emitting galaxy 250,000 light years across, which is believed to have a black hole at its center.

Team member Toshio Fukushima said he hoped the images might "open the eyes" of children to astronomy.

Fukushima said the observatory staff understands the sacred nature of Mauna Kea for some people of Hawaii.

Mount Fuji in Japan is also considered sacred, but is also the site of a large radar facility used to monitor weather, he said.

"We do not have to control the whole summit," he said. "We want to share."

Images of the Deep Field and more can be seen on the Subaru telescope's Web site,

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