mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

Front Page Archives

These stories have appeared on the IfA home page. See also Press Releases.


Vision for a Digital Future

An amazing video about Maunakea and preparing Hawai‘i's youth for a digital future by PBS and Internet2.


Kaluna Successfully defends dissertation

Heather Kaluna became the first Native Hawaiian to complete the UH PhD program in astronomy on May 14. She is shown in the picture on the right with her dissertation advisor Dr. Karen Meech. Kaluna's dissertation is entitled "Evolution of Water in Carbonaceous Main Belt Asteroids." We congratulate the new Dr. Kaluna on this achievement. Heather Kaluna and Karen Meech


With astronomy so important to Hawaii, respect is vital

Hawaii is the best place on Earth to observe the heavens. Astronomers are deeply grateful to the Hawaiian people for allowing access to the precious skies over Mauna Kea. Nearly every astronomical breakthrough in the last 50 years involved telescopes in Hawaii.

With the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), Hawaii will maintain its leading position creating new knowledge about the universe.



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.



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


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.



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


New option if you are applying to our graduate program and already have a master's degree

Applicants who already hold a master's degree from another institution may move in our program to PhD candidacy on an accelerated track. In addition, these students have the option to be based at any of the Institute for Astronomy branches (Mānoa, Maui, or Hilo) immediately upon entering the program. Placement at the IfA-Maui or IfA-Hilo facilities is contingent upon funding for an assistantship, and applicants are encouraged to contact potential research advisors during the admissions process.



Movie of VERY near Earth Asteroid 2014 RC

On Sunday, September 7, 60-foot-wide (18-meter) asteroid 2014 RC will come within 25,000 miles (40,000 km) of Earth. That's almost as close as some weather and communications satellites in geosynchronous orbits. IfA astronomer David Tholen has generated a movie of 2014 RC. He used the UH 2.2-meter telescope to take 120 exposures during a little over an hour of observing time. At the standard frame rate of 30 frames per second, the movie lasts 4 seconds.



New Astrophysics and Astronomy undergraduate degrees launched

The UH Board of Regents has approved adding two new programs to the UH Mānoa College of Natural Sciences – a BA in Astronomy and a BS in Astrophysics. The programs will be a cooperative effort of the Physics and Astronomy Department and the Institute for Astronomy. The board approved the new programs at its meeting on Thursday, August 21, 2014.


ATLAS Project on Track to achieve first light by year's end

The ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) project is coming together well within its budget and timeline. By the end of 2014, Telescope 1 on Mauna Loa should achieve first light. IfA alumnus Brian Stalder has joined the project as a postdoctoral fellow.


Thirty Meter telescope to Begin Construction

Following the approval of a sublease on July 25 by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) announced it would begin the initial phase of construction, with activities near the summit of Mauna Kea scheduled to start later this year. Previously, Kahu Ku Mauna and the Mauna Kea Management Board reviewed, and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents recently approved, the proposed TMT sublease. The final approval from the Board of Land and Natural Resources—the last step in the sublease process—allows TMT to begin on-site construction on Maunakea, home to many of the world's premier observatories.

TMT press release



Tully wins WempeAward

IfA astronomer R. Brent Tully has won the Wempe Award given by the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) "in recognition of his groundbreaking research about the structure of galaxies and the large-scale structure of the cosmos."


Jason Chu photo on APOD

IfA graduate student Jason Chu, who took some of the photographs that rotate on the top of this page, had one of his photos of Mauna Kea telescopes featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Monday, June 23. APOD is a NASA web page that features astronomy-related pictures and videos with captions that explain them. It is translated into numerous languages for people throughout the world.



HI STAR Alumni Excel at Intel Science Fair, Ted Talks

Students who have participated in HI STAR (Hawai‘i Student/Teacher Astronomy Research), an IfA program that encouranges middle and high school students to excel in the sciences by teaching them how to do astronomical research, picked up a bundle of awards at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles. Six of the 25 students from Hawai‘i who went to ISEF were students who had previously attended HI STAR, and nine of the 18 awards won by Hawai‘i students were won by HI STAR alumni. Several HI STAR alumni also gave impressive TEDx youth talks that can be accessed online.



‘Death Stars’ in Orion Blast Planets before They Even Form

The Orion Nebula is home to hundreds of young stars and even younger protostars known as proplyds. Many of these nascent systems will go on to develop planets, while others will have their planet-forming dust and gas blasted away by the fierce ultraviolet radiation emitted by massive O-type stars that lurk nearby.

A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States, including the IfA's Jonathan Wiliams, has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the often deadly relationship between highly luminous O-type stars and nearby protostars in the Orion Nebula. Their data reveal that protostars within 0.1 light-years (about 600 billion miles) of an O-type star are doomed to have their cocoons of dust and gas stripped away in just a few millions years, much faster than planets are able to form.

NRAO Press Release


IfA Astronomers Participate in "A Small Step toward Discovering Habitable Earths"

University of Arizona researchers snapped images of a planet outside our solar system with an Earth-based telescope using essentially the same type of imaging sensor found in digital cameras instead of an infrared detector. Although the technology still has a very long way to go, the accomplishment takes astronomers a small step closer to what will be needed to image earth-like planets around other stars. IfA astronomers provided some near-infrared data taken with the Gemini Near Infrared Coronagraphic Imager (NICI) that was used in the analysis.

Arizona Press Release


Two IfA Exoplanet Studies Included in APS Top Physics News Stories of 2013

The American Physical Society web page, “Physics Newsmakers of 2013” says under the heading “Exoplanets,” “2013 was another banner year for the search for another Earth” and specifically mentions two discoveries that IfA astronomers participated in: Nader Haghighipour was part of the team that found three planets orbiting star Gliese 667C in the habitable zone, and Erik Petigura and Andrew Howard were among the authors of a study that estimated that one in five stars like the sun has planets about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to life, making it statistically likely that the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is only 12 light-years away.

APS List


Board of Regents Approves the Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel Director’s Chair in Astronomy

The Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel Director’s Chair in Astronomy at the IfA has been established with a $2 million gift that is part of an overall $10 million estate gift to UH. These funds will give the IfA director flexibility to enhance the IfA's programs, and advance the education and research missions of IfA. Funds will be used to recruit and retain talented faculty, support quality research and provide seed research funding, particularly among promising junior faculty.

This gift was originally announced in early 2013 without the donors being named, but the Pavels gave the UH Foundation permission to acknowledge them posthumously and to explain the reason for the gift: They believed deeply in the value of science education.

IfA Director Dr. Günther Hasinger said, "With an endowed chair we will be able to bring some of the best faculty members and graduate students here because it gives flexibility that otherwise is not possible." Hasinger continued, "IfA contributes to our very understanding of the universe. It also excites young people and inspires them to think about careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields."

UH Foundation Press Release


How Bad Is Light Pollution?

This segment aired on CBS This Morning on November 30. It is an interview with Bob Parks, executive director of the International Dark Sky Association. They start off talking about Comet ISON and then move into the interview with Parks.



Scientific Authorities Sign the TMT Master Agreement

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project announced on July 25 that all of the scientific authorities of the TMT partners have signed a Master Agreement. The Master Agreement document establishes a formal agreement amongst the international parties defining the project goals, establishing a governance structure and defining member party rights, obligations and benefits.

TMT Press Release


Pan-STARRS Discovers Another Near-Earth Asteroid

On July 15, the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakalā discovered an asteroid about the size of a football field that will make its closest approach to Earth—at a distance about 11 times that of the Moon—on July 22.

Slooh Press Release


Pan-STARRS Telescope Discovers Ten Thousandth Near-Earth Object

More than 10,000 asteroids and comets that can pass near Earth have now been discovered. The 10,000th near-Earth object, asteroid 2013 MZ5, was first detected on the night of June 18, 2013, by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, located on the 10,000-foot (convert) summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui. Managed by the University of Hawaii, the PanSTARRS survey receives NASA funding.

NASA Press Release


Global Announcement of Opportunity: JCMT Available for New Operator or Operating Partnership

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), one of the world's leading astronomical observatories, has served the UK and international communities with unique and forefront capabilities that have blazed the trail in submillimetre astronomy, consistently leading the world in productivity and impact for more than 25 years. Despite these successes, the UK’s funding agency for astronomy, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), can no longer support the JCMT beyond 30th September 2014. The observatory, its instrumentation and its support equipment are therefore being offered to the global astronomical community through this Announcement of Opportunity.



Gemini Observatory Captures Comet ISON Hurtling Toward Uncertain Destiny with the Sun

IfA astronomers Karen Meech and Jacqueline Keane talk about the latest data.

Gemini Press Release

How to Hunt for New Earths

A Time video featuring IfA astronomer Nader Haghighipour and the W. M. Keck Observatory.



$3M Donation Puts Pan-STARRS Back on Track

The cancellation of earmarks by the U.S. Congress in 2011 left Pan-STARRS, one of Hawai‘i’s flagship programs, $10M short of the funds needed to complete the historic 2-telescope system — and on the verge of folding. Thanks to an anonymous $3M gift, Pan-STARRS will survive the cuts and continue astronomy research of global import.

Press Release


Astronomers Measure Distance to Neighbor Galaxy More Accurately Than Ever Before

After nearly a decade of careful observations, an international team of astronomers, including two from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has measured the distance to our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, more accurately than ever before.

Press Release



A new experiment simulating conditions in deep space reveals that the complex building blocks of life could have been created on icy interplanetary dust and then carried to Earth, jump-starting life. Dr. Ralf Kaiser, a chemist who is a team member of the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute, participated in the research.

Press Release


IfA to Benefit from $9.2 Million Gift to UH

Part of the gift will give the IfA Director flexibility to enhance the IfA's programs, and advance the education and research missions of IfA. Funds will be used to recruit and retain talented faculty, support quality research and provide seed research funding, particularly among promising junior faculty.

UH Foundation Press Release


Construction on ATST Site Begins Following Formal Blessing

On November 30, construction at the ATST site began following a formal Hawaiian Blessing. The event was attended by Board Chair Dan Clemens, AURA President William Smith, IfA Director Gunther Hasinger, ATST co-investigator Michael Knoelker, and others.



Subaru Telescope Takes Pictures of a "Super-Jupiter" around a Massive Star

An international team of astronomers known as the SEEDS project has taken images of a very large planet around a star in the constellation Andromeda. This star, called Kappa Andromedae b (Kappa And b, for short), is 2.5 times as massive as the Sun and only about 30 million years old. The images were obtained with two infrared cameras mounted on the Subaru Telescope, HiCIAO and IRCS that were built at the IfA by K. Hodapp and A. Tokunaga, respectively.

Taking an image of a faint planet very close to an overwhelmingly bright star requires a combination of several advanced technologies: adaptive optics to sharpen up the images, coronographic optics to block most of the star's light, infrared cameras to detect the faint glow of the planet, and sophisticated data reduction software to separate the planet's image from the residual glare of the star. The paper describing this work, soon to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, points out that the newly discovered super-Jupiter is just at the upper mass limit for planets (13 times the mass of Jupiter), and may actually produce some energy by the nuclear fusion of deuterium.



Astronomers Create Instructions for Finding Exoplanets

IfA astronomer Michael Liu and IfA graduate student Brendan Bowler have worked with Evgenya Shkolnik, a former postdoctoral fellow at IfA who is now an astronomer at Lowell Observatory, to create a set of directions for finding exoplanets (planets around other stars). Their paper, recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, examined new and existing data from stars and brown dwarfs that are less than 300 million years old. Two telescopes on Mauna Kea (Keck and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope) played significant roles in the project.



Pan-STARRS Image of Lagoon Featured on APOD

The beautiful PS1 image of the Lagoon-Trifid region is the October 12, 2012, Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

APOD link


Guyon Receives MacArthur Fellowship

Dr. Olivier Guyon, who worked at IfA during the final years of his PhD thesis research, has received one of 23 MacArthur Fellowships, also known as the “genius grants.” Recipients receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over five years. While at IfA, Guyon worked with IfA faculty member François Roddier. He received his PhD from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in 2002 and now works at both the Subaru telescope on Hawai‘i island and at the University of Arizona, where he is an assistant professor. He specializes in designing telescopes and the instruments for them.

MacArthur Foundation press release