Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Maui makes finals
for new telescope

Haleakala ranks among three
sites for a solar observatory

WAILUKU >> The director of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy said he's encouraged by a decision naming Haleakala as among three sites being considered for the world's largest ground-based solar optical observatory.

"It contributes to the very positive image that Haleakala has as a solar observatory site in the world," institute Director Rolf Kudritzki said yesterday.

Kudritzki said once the site is selected in late 2004, the design and construction of the observatory is expected to cost $160 million.

Two other places, Big Bear Lake in California and La Palma in the Canary Islands near Spain, are also being considered.

The potential sites for the Advance Technology Solar Telescope were narrowed to three from six by the National Solar Observatory and its partners, the Institute announced Monday.

Kudritzki said he believes the site at Haleakala is the best location and that the university's approval of an $8 million institute building in Kula demonstrates the state's commitment to its solar astronomy program.

The facility in Kula, expected to be built in about a year and a half, includes space to host National Solar Observatory officials, he said.

Haleakala is the site of the Mees Solar Observatory, which has been tracking increases in major sun spot activity and their effects, including the disruption of high-tech equipment on Earth.

The summit is also the site of the Air Force's deep space tracking observatory tied to a supercomputer in Kihei that helps to identify objects in deep space.

National Solar Observatory officials said the selection of the final site will be based on which location will maximize the scientific productivity of the telescope.

A number of instruments have been recording atmospheric conditions at the sites, measuring factors including dust levels, visibility, and humidity.

Kudritzki said the Advance Technology Solar Telescope will use technology to take the twinkle out of starlight and produce sharper images of the sun.

He said the telescope will also enable scientists to study sun spots and the impact of magnetic fields on earth, including the disruption of cell phone transmissions and global positioning systems.

The proposed observatory will have a 13-foot telescope employing recent advances in optics and other technology.


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