mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

Finally, a Solar Observatory

Maintained by CGWW

In the mean time, the search for support for a solar observatory on Haleakala continued. The IGY program provided a great impetus to geophysics in Hawai`i, to the point that the University felt the need for establishing an Institute of Geophysics. It was decided to combine the two projects and include in the proposal for the Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics (HIG) the construction of a solar observatory on Haleakala. In 1961 the National Science Foundation approved the proposal and provided funds for the construction of the observatory. Plans were prepared, a construction contract awarded, and groundbreaking took place on February 10, 1962.  Fortunately, weather conditions were very favorable during the following months and the basic construction was completed in November 1962. In addition to the 30-foot dome, the observatory housed dormitory space, a day room with kitchen facilities, a well-equipped machine shop, offices and laboratories.

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Haleakala solar observatory groundbreaking, February 10,1962. l. to r.: Robert Hughes, Board of Regents of the Univ. of Hawai`i; Greg Sinclair, President Emeritus of UH; Laurence Snyder, President of UH; Lt. Governor James Kealoha; Maui  County Mayor Eddie Tam; and Robert Hiatt, Vice President and Director of Research, UH

Haleakala solar observatory upon initial completion, November 1962.

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The 10-ft octagonal spar showing the k-coronameter and Charles Garcia

During the following year, the furnishings, machinery, and the Boller & Chivens 10-foot, equatorially mounted, octagonal spar gradually arrived and were installed. The octagonal spar provided the new observatory with a great deal of flexibility, for it was, in effect an eight-sided optical bench that would automatically and continuously track the Sun with great precision. On it could be mounted a variety of optical telescopes. Initially, the flare patrol telescope from the Makapu`u Point Solar Observatory was moved to the new observatory. This was soon followed by a k-coronameter from the High Altitude Observatory in Colorado. Along with the k-coronameter came Richard Hansen and Charles Garcia, who later moved the instrument to Mauna Loa, as alluded to earlier in this report. 

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Dedication ceremony of the Haleakala solar observatory naming it the Mees Solar Laboratory, in recognition of the contributions to astronomical photography by Dr. C.E. Kenneth Mees, January 1964.

Dedication ceremonies of the new observatory took place took place on a cold but sunny winter day in January 1964. The facility was named the C.E. Kenneth Mees Solar Laboratory in honor of the now deceased photographic scientist who did so much for astronomy in general and helped us get started on Haleakala. As part of the Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics, the facility was informally called the HIG Haleakala Observatory, or HIGHO, a rather neat acronym for a high altitude observatory, I thought! 

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Recognition of the HIGHO staff by W. Steiger: l. to r.: Richard Hansen, Chester Dilley, Roy Graham, Alex Kowalski, Jerry Weinberg, Charles Garcia, and Ronald Furukawa.

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An observatory without astronomers is but a pile of brick and cement. But before there was an observatory no astronomer was willing to come to Hawaii. Now, at last, we had something to offer and were successful in recruiting, for a new program in solar astronomy, the eminent astronomers John Jefferies, Frank Orrall, and Jack Zirker. Marie McCabe soon joined them under their research grants. At this point I bowed out of leadership of the program and invited John Jefferies to provide the leadership and direction of the future solar physics program. It was, then, under his able direction that later the Institute for Astronomy was formed, separate from the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics, and that the spectacular developments on Mauna Kea began -- developments that in the 1950s I would not have dreamed of.