Telescope to deliver detailed scan of sky
An array based on the Maui model will help find "killer asteroids"
A hunt for "killer asteroids" will begin from Haleakala, where a powerful telescope was recently dedicated.
The first telescope of its kind on Maui will be surveying about one-third of the sky every night.
"The amazing thing is the project got the first funding Sept. 23, 2002, and a little less than four years later, we've got a telescope up there," said Nicholas Kaiser, principal investigator of the $50 million project at the Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
The first telescope, PS1, was dedicated June 30 in a ceremony on the summit of Haleakala shortly after it achieved "first light" with test images of stars.
PS1 is a prototype for a powerful array of four small telescopes known as the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Environmental and site studies are under way to determine if Pan-STARRS will be located on Haleakala or on Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
The PS1 telescope's dedication was called "a historic event" by Rolf Kudritzki, University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy director. He said Pan-STARRS "is the most important UH telescope project in 30 years."
"We don't expect to have any really exciting results until about September," Kaiser said. "What we have at the moment is enough equipment so we can test out the telescope and really start commissioning the system."
The telescope's 71-inch mirror is much smaller than the twin Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, each nearly 400 inches. But the world's largest digital camera is being built for the PS1 at the Institute for Astronomy in Manoa, and by the end of the year, it will have a resolution of 1.4 billion pixels of light, Kaiser said.
The wide-field imaging detector will be used to survey the whole sky, looking at about one-third of it in one night, he said. "We will do it over and over again."
Meanwhile, the telescope has a resolution of 300 million pixels, with "a little video camera that you can buy at Radio Shack," Kaiser said. "We can take single-star measurements to test the system."
When the PS1 is fully operational, astronomers will be able to see a region 40 times larger than the size of the full moon, he said.
The telescope will produce about 2,000 gigabytes of data each night, most of which will travel by optical fiber to the Maui High Performance Computing Center in Kihei for analysis.
The major goal of the four-telescope Pan-STARRS array -- called the "four-shooter" by the astronomers -- is to scan large regions of the sky to detect faint asteroids that could threaten Earth. But astronomers also will collect data to answer questions about the solar system and the universe.
Kudritzki pointed out at the dedication that PS1 is the first telescope built on Haleakala under guidelines established in the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site Long Range Development Plan.
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. provided "sense of place" training for the construction crew and oversaw construction as the cultural monitor, Kudritzki said.
The building was blessed by two of Maxwell's sons with the untying of the maile lei and acknowledgment of ancient Hawaiian astronomers who studied the sky from Puu Kolekole on Haleakala.