Thursday, June 7, 2001

The UH Institute for Astronomy proposes two new concepts
for telescopes on Mauna Kea, site of several observatories,
including the Keck Observatory shown here.

UH astronomy institute
pitches 2 telescope ideas

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO >> The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy will start developing its own concepts for new telescopes for Mauna Kea, a change from the past practice of responding to outside proposals, said institute Director Rolf-Peter Kudritzki.

He described two concepts.

One, called the High Dynamic Range Telescope, would replace the existing Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which has a single, 3.6-meter (11.8-foot) main mirror. The High Dynamic instrument would have six main mirrors, each up to 8 meters wide, arranged in a total width of 22 meters, or 72 feet.

That is twice as wide as the 10-meter (32-foot) main mirrors of the two Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea.

Existing telescopes refocus light from their main mirrors onto secondary mirrors, which sit in the way of incoming light. It is an arrangement that causes "confusing patterns," Kudritzki said.

To avoid that, institute astronomer Jeffrey Kuhn proposed putting the six High Dynamic mirrors off center so the secondary mirror will not be in the way.

Astronomers expect a "spectacular" improvement in clarity, an institute description said.

A lot of engineering must be done to see if the idea will really work, Kudritzki said.

Another concept instrument would be placed inside an existing annex building at the university's 2.2-meter telescope on Mauna Kea.

Called a Panoramic Optical Imager, or POI, it would employ four almost garden-variety telescopes with main mirrors just 5 feet across.

But each of the four telescopes would use enormously powerful, still undeveloped cameras to see images.

The field of view would be so wide, the POI could do a full survey of the sky once a week, Kudritzki said.

Kudritzki described these ideas to the Rotary Club of Honolulu in March. But the fact that they were not first announced on the Big Island has ruffled some feathers.

"When are these guys going to learn to check in with the locals before they go off half-cocked with new development plans?" asked Big Island Sierra Club spokesman Nelson Ho in a press release. "Why not engage the public early on?"

Kudritzki emphasized that these are concepts, not plans, and added that he earlier invited Ho to discuss matters with him.

"I told him we could meet and talk about anything, at any time, anywhere, immediately," he said. "I think I didn't make a severe diplomatic mistake."

But Big Islander Arthur Hoke, chairman of the Hilo-based advisory Mauna Kea Management Board, agreed with Ho.

"We should have been told," Hoke said.

In a recent meeting, Kudritzki did brief the board and said he thought his staff had informed them, Hoke said.

Hoke responded: "You need to take care of your own back yard. Things don't look right."

Kudritzki told the Star-Bulletin, "I would not completely disagree."

Illustrations of the telescope concepts can be found

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