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Newsletter no. 53 is now available on the Web or in pdf.

A Cold Cosmic Mystery Solved

In 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky. The physics surrounding the Big Bang theory predicts warmer and cooler spots of various sizes in the infant universe, but a spot this large and this cold was unexpected.

Now, a team of astronomers led by Dr. István Szapudi of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa may have found an explanation for the existence of the Cold Spot, which Szapudi says may be “the largest individual structure ever identified by humanity.”

Press release


Testimony for OHA: Modern History of Astronomy in Hawai‘i by GUenther Hasinger, IfA Director

The Polynesian Voyagers were some of the best astronomers of their time and brought the Hawaiian ancestors to these islands, using the best technology available at their time. Modern astronomy in Hawai‘i begins with King David Kalākaua, who invited an expedition of British astronomers to Hawai‘i in 1874 to observe the transit of Venus.



Award-Winning Hawai‘i Astronomer Funds Endowment to Bring Stars to UH

IfA astronomer R. Brent Tully made world news when he identified the full extent of our home supercluster of 100 thousand galaxies and named it Laniakea. The recipient of numerous prestigious astronomical awards, he has chosen to build on IfA’s global prominence by using $264,000 of his prize money to establish the R. Brent Tully Distinguished Visitors Endowed Fund for the Institute for Astronomy.



Welcome, prospective graduate student class of 2015!

We look forward to hosting you at the IfA in early April. The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Manoa is the youngest Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD program in the US, but is widely recognized as one of the top astronomy departments in the nation. With the unparalleled observational resources of Maunakea and Haleakala, our graduate students have access to use the most powerful telescopes in the world -- and have the unique opportunity to propose observations of their own on all the telescopes on Maunakea, something that cannot be done anywhere else. The Institute for Astronomy is conducting active research in all subfields of observational astronomy, and a list of ongoing research projects can be found here. A list of current faculty can be found here. Our graduate program typically includes about 30 to 40 students, who can be found here.

Graduate Program


Tokunaga, Khayat participate in NASA Research that Suggests Mars Once Had More Water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean

IfA astronomer Alan Tokunaga and graduate student Alain Khayat are part of the team that has discovered that the Red Planet had more water, and had considerable water for a longer time, than previously thought. They used the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, as well as the Very Large Telescope in Chile for this research.

NASA press release and video


Fastest Star in Our Galaxy Propelled by a Thermonuclear Supernova

A team of astronomers, including University of Hawaii at Manoa astronomer Eugene Magnier, used the 10-meter Keck II and Pan-STARRS1 telescopes in Hawaii to find a star that breaks the galactic speed record. It travels at about 1,200 kilometers per second (about 2.7 million mph), a speed that will enable the star to escape from our Milky Way galaxy.

Press release


One Planet, Four Stars: The second known case of a planet in a quadruple star system

Researchers wanting to know more about the influences of multiple stars on exoplanets have come up with a new case study: a planet in a four-star system.

The discovery was made at Palomar Observatory using two new adaptive optics technologies that compensate for the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere: the robotic Robo-AO adaptive optics system, developed under the leadership of Dr. Christoph Baranec of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy, and the PALM-3000 extreme adaptive optics system, developed by a team at Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that also included Baranec.

The newfound four-star planetary system, called 30 Ari, is located 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The system’s gaseous planet is enormous, with 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbits its primary star every 335 days.

Press release


UH assumes ownership of James Clerk Maxwell Telescope

On March 1, the University of Hawai‘i assumed ownership of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), formerly owned by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) of the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, the operation of JCMT was assumed by the East Asian Observatory (EAO), a consortium of astronomy agencies in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, under a scientific cooperation agreement with UH. JCMT will continue to be operated from the Joint Astronomy Centre Building in Hilo by most of the same personnel. Dr. Paul Ho, former director of Taiwan's Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics is now the director of JCMT.

STFC announcement


Help wanted: Hawai‘i Island Educational Outreach Specialist

The UH Institute for Astronomy is seeking a well-qualified individual to lead our Hawai‘i Island outreach programs. Are you that person? Or do you know someone who might be? Please see our job listings at the AAS Job Register and Work at UH.


Asteroid 2004 BL86

Here is a brief video obtained by Mark Elphick and IfA's J. D. Armstrong using the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) Network telescope in Chile before this asteroid reached its closest approach to Earth on January 26, when it passed our planet at a distance of about three times that of the Moon.



Newly Discovered Three-Planet System Holds Clues to Atmospheres of Earth-size World

Extrasolar planets are being discovered by the hundreds, but are any of these newfound worlds really like Earth? A planetary system recently discovered by the Kepler spacecraft will help resolve this question.

The new discovery paves the way for studies of the atmosphere of a warm planet nearly the size of Earth. The three new planets are particularly favorable for atmospheric studies because they orbit a nearby, bright star. Next, the team of astronomers that made the discovery hopes to observe the planets with the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories to determine what elements are in the planets’ atmospheres. If Hubble finds that these warm, nearly Earth-size planets have thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres, they will learn that there is not much chance for life.

Press release


UHERO Report: The Economic Impact of Astronomy in Hawai‘i

A recent study by UHERO (the Economic Research Organization at UH) shows that in 2012 astronomy created an economic impact of about $168 million and almost 1,400 jobs in the state of Hawai‘i. The state taxes produced by astronomy totaled more than $8 million, and thus were significantly more than the State general funds that IfA receives.

This study is a snapshot of astronomy-related expenditures in calendar year 2012 and not a forecast of later years. It is expected that in years to come the economic impact of astronomy will increase due to the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and Thirty Meter Telescope projects, now under construction on Maui and Hawai‘i, respectively. Note that the size of the impact cited in the report may be lower than the actual impact, since the study did not include astronomy-related activities by the U.S. Air Force on Maui nor the non-IfA activities on Mauna Loa, and the visitor-related expenditures were underestimated, as explained in the report.

UHERO report


IfA Astronomer, Keck Observatory Confirm First Kepler K2 Exoplanet Discovery

Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered a new super-Earth using data collected during its “second life,” known as the K2 mission.

IfA astronomer Christoph Baranec supplied confirming data with his Robo-AO instrument mounted on the Palomar 1.5-meter telescope, and former IfA graduate student Brendan Bowler, now a Joint Center for Planetary Astronomy postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, provided additional confirming observations using the Keck II adaptive optics system on Maunakea.

Press release


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