Webcast lets public peek at Mauna Kea observatories


POSTED: Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mauna Kea's world-renowned observatories will be open to the public via a 24-hour live webcast starting at 11 tonight.

“;Around the World in 80 Telescopes”; is one of many events planned in 140 nations to observe 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy.

The webcast will take the public into the control rooms of 80 professional observatories around the world, beginning with those on Mauna Kea.

“;It is a great opportunity,”; said Gary Fujihara, Institute for Astronomy science education and public outreach officer at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

“;It is a great honor for us to be able to open this up and be able to share with the world the cutting-edge research taking place here on the summit of our glorious white mountain,”; he added, referring to its snowcap.

The only observatory on the Big Island mountain that will not be shown on the webcast is the 88-inch UH telescope, which is deferring to the larger ones, Fujihara said. Even so, he said, “;it is the most hard-worked, the most cited telescope in the world”; because of productive research and publications by students.

Observatories will introduce themselves with a five-minute video, followed by a 10-minute conversation with observers in the control room. A new image will be shown from each observatory that has not been shown previously.

At W.M. Keck Observatory, for instance, viewers will learn how remote observing works at the world's largest optical and infrared telescopes, spokeswoman Ashley Yeager said by e-mail.

Keck's pioneering use of adaptive optics will be explained, she said. “;This technology makes Keck's images of cosmic objects as sharp as Hubble Space Telescope images.”;

Webcast visitors also will be able to meet astronomers using the telescope and talk about what they are doing to study the properties of distant galaxies with a spectrograph called LRIS on Keck I telescope, she said.

“;What's interesting is that these astronomers have identified galaxies that have even more distant galaxies lying directly behind them,”; Yeager said. “;When the light from a more distant galaxy passes through a closer galaxy on its way to Earth, the gas and dust in the closer galaxy leave distinctive features in the light that the astronomers can observe.”;

She said they are able to learn about the composition and motions in the closer galaxy's gas by studying those features.


Around the World in 80 Telescopes

The European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere is hosting a webcast that includes observatories on Mauna Kea. To view the webcast, visit http://www.100hoursofastronomy.org/webcast.

» Today: 11 p.m., Gemini Observatory; 11:20 p.m., Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan; 11:40 p.m., United Kingdom Infrared Telescope; midnight, W.M. Keck Observatory

» Tomorrow: 12:20 a.m., James Clerk Maxwell Telescope; 12:40 a.m., Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope; 1 a.m., Smithsonian Submillimeter Array; 1:20 a.m., Caltech Submillimeter Observatory