mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

Research Facilities

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The Institute for Astronomy

the IfA building in Manoa
IfA Mānoa

Although they primarily observe from Mauna Kea or Haleakalā, most UH astronomers are based at the IfA headquarters building in the part of Honolulu known as Mānoa Valley, near the main campus of the University of Hawai‘i on the island of O‘ahu. The IfA has an annual budget of about $20 million and a total staff of about 200 people, including more than 50 faculty and 40 graduate students. The IfA building contains offices, a large astronomical library, laboratories, a machine shop for building the scientific instruments that go on the telescopes, extensive computing facilities, and remote observing facilities so that astronomers can use the telescopes on Mauna Kea and Haleakalā over the Internet.

A sea-level facility in Hilo on the island of Hawai‘i houses part of the IfA’s faculty and staff, with an emphasis on the support of Mauna Kea telescope operations. It also houses research groups involved in the development of adaptive optics and infrared detectors.

On Maui, the IfA operates the Advanced Technology Research Center, for support of its Haleakalā activities. The building includes laboratory workspace for microfabrication and advanced metrology, and optical/infrared sensor development. It is strategically located in Pukalani, approximately halfway between the Maui Research and Technology Park and the summit of Haleakalā.

During the last forty years, Hawai‘i has been one of the most sought-after location in the world for the construction of large ground-based telescopes. The focal points for this construction are the 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) peak of Haleakalā on the island of Maui and the 4,200-meter (14,000-foot) peak of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). The remarkable clarity, dryness, and stillness of the air above these isolated high-altitude sites led to the commissioning by the University of Hawai‘i first of the Mees Solar Observatory on Haleakalā in 1963 and then of the 2.2-meter telescope on Mauna Kea in 1970.

Mauna Kea Observatories

2.2-m telescope dome
2.2-meter telescope

Soon after the 2.2-meter telescope became operational, the value of Mauna Kea for optical and infrared observations was apparent to the international astronomical community, and by the end of the 1970s, three more large telescopes had been built near its summit:

In the 1990s, four larger telescopes were built on Mauna Kea:

These telescopes all benefit from the remarkable seeing atop Mauna Kea, and from the transparency to infrared wavelengths that are largely inaccessible at lower (wetter) sites.

Mauna Kea is also a premier site for submillimeter astronomy. All three facilities exploit the dryness of Mauna Kea for observations in the 350-micron to 2-millimeter wavelength range.

Finally, the western-most antenna of the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is located on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea. The VLBA is a system of ten 25-meter radio-telescope antennas that stretches from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands across the mainland United States to Mauna Kea.

University of Hawai‘i astronomers have full access to the UH 2.2-meter telescope and a guaranteed 10–15% of the time on all the other telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea.


Haleakalā Observatories

PS1 telescope. Photo by R. Ratkowski.
PS1 telescope

The University of Hawai‘i’s Mees Solar Observatory conducts daily observations of the Sun using a variety of detectors mounted on a Sun-tracking spar.

The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope is single-mirror prototype for the four-mirror Pan-STARRS telescope proposed to be built on Mauna Kea. Its Gigapixel Camera, with 1.4 billion pixels, is the largest digital camera in the world. A major goal of Pan-STARRS is to discover approaching objects, both asteroids and comets, that might pose a danger to Earth. Its vast database is also useful for several other areas of astronomical research, particularly those that depend on changes over time. Prototype telescope PS2 will be constructed in the dome next to PS1.

The Faulkes Telescope North, part of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGTN), is the largest telescope dedicated to education. Its aim is to encourage teachers and students to engage in research-based science education.

The TLRS-4 Laser Ranging System is operated by the IfA under contract to NASA. It bounces laser beams off of satellites in Earth orbit and reflectors left by astronauts on the Moon to acquire information about the geophysical processes of Earth and the Earth-Moon system. It is part of a worldwide network of such facilities.

The 3.67-meter Advanced Electro-Optical System (AEOS) Telescope is part of the Air Force Maui Optical Station (AMOS). The IfA built the spectrograph for it, and University of Hawai‘i astronomers have guaranteed access to the telescope.

The Zodiacal Light Observatory houses two instruments: SOLARC and the Day-Night Seeing Monitor (DNSM). SOLARC is a 0.5-meter, off-axis coronagraphic reflecting telescope with a fiber-fed imaging spectropolarimeter. The telescope is used for a number of solar and coronal experiments. It was a proof of concept for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), which is now under construction next to Mees Solar Observatory. The Day-Night Seeing Monitor (DNSM) is an optical seeing monitor system.