STAR-BULLETIN / 2006
A new base and dome are made for the prototype Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala, Maui, designed to hunt for "killer asteroids." The building has since been completed on the site formerly occupied by a satellite tracking observatory.
Experts await telescope’s photos
Haleakala's PS1 is a prototype designed to track potentially dangerous asteroids
Nearly 170 scientists from around the world are meeting in Germany next week to begin preparing for an unprecedented amount of information expected from a Haleakala telescope that will track potentially dangerous asteroids and survey other moving objects in space.
The telescope, called PS1, is a prototype for an array of four telescopes planned in what is called the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS.
The first Pan-STARRS telescope has been characterized as "the most interesting ground-based telescope in the world coming on line," said astronomer Kenneth Chambers, with the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy and principal scientist for the PS1 project.
The telescope has a 71-inch-diameter mirror and the largest digital camera in the world, developed by Astronomy Institute astronomer John Tonry. Its resolution is about 300 times that of a normal commercial digital camera, enabling scientists to see deeper into the universe and map the sky repeatedly.
"When you stop and think about it and realize the capabilities, that we're mapping the universe at this stage in the 21st century, it takes your breath away to realize the work we're doing." Chambers said. "It is a little mind-boggling."
"UH received $8 million from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to continue work on Pan-STARRS, Chambers said.
He said an international consortium of nine academic institutions with about 365 members interested in working with the PS1 telescope will contribute $13.5 million for its operations for 3 1/2 years, starting in the fall.
Chambers said he had expected perhaps 30 scientists at the Heidelberg, Germany, gathering. "It grew way beyond my expectations. There is an enormous amount of interest. Scientists are just waiting, drooling, for the first data to come out."
"The Pan-STARRS scientists are working out problems posed by the unique camera, optics, engineering and software, Chambers said.
"We're optimistic that we're going to start getting a big increase in image quality, which is crucial for us. Getting everything to sing and dance together in concert is a challenge for any system, particularly one as technologically advanced and sophisticated as this one."
"But he said preparations are going "very well" for commissioning of the telescope for scientific use. If the prototype project meets specifications when it is reviewed by an external committee, tentatively in the fall, it will be handed over to the international consortium for science operations, Chambers said.
The Pan-STARRS team then will begin building the other three telescopes to be located either at Haleakala or Mauna Kea, he said. An environmental study of both sites is under way.
Chambers said Mauna Kea is the primary choice scientifically for PS4, which would replace the UH 88-inch telescope with a smaller, less visible dome.
Any one of the problems associated with PS1 was enough "to make it a very risky project," he noted. However, he said the scientists have learned a lot from the prototype and will make modifications to improve the efficiency and performance of the four-telescope Pan-STARRS facility.