The Universe Tonight

Jul 7, 2012 6:00pm
Canada - France - Hawai`i Telescope

   Dr. Olivier Lai 


'OHANA: A Family of Telescopes on Mauna Kea

`Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language, which was the word chosen as the name for the project that aims at linking existing telescopes of Mauna Kea into one giant synthetic telescope. When all the telescopes are working together towards a common goal, they can support each other and achieve performance in a way that is much more than the sum of its parts, just like a family. OHANA is therefore the acronym for the "Optical Hawaiian Array for Nanoradian Astronomy".

Recent technological advances in the adaptive optics and infrared optical fibers have enabled this exciting and ambitious idea to develop an 800 meter synthetic telescope using the technique of interferometry. Mauna Kea is host to four of the largest (8-10m class) telescopes in the world as well as three 3-4m class telescopes, all serendipitously arranged on the semi-circular caldera. Optical fibers can be used to transport the light of each individual telescope to a common focus, with the crucial attribute of having very limited impact on the site or the infrastructure!

This project started more than 10 years ago. The astronomers were able to obtain first results using fibers between the two Keck telescopes, but fought harsh and inclement weather for 5 years without luck! The next phase of the plan, that is currently happening, is to try to connect CFHT with Gemini. In the course of testing the components, Olivier and others have developed small and light interferometer using 8" amateur telescopes called `Ohana iki (iki means small in the Hawaiian language).

Come join us, as Dr. Olivier Lai discusses adaptive optics and interferometry in layman’s terms to emphasize the amazing scope of this instrument, as well as the history of the project to provide the context of this international collaboration on top of Mauna Kea.


Olivier Lai was born and raised in Paris, France, but left to study physics in England at age 15. After graduating from Imperial College, he returned to France to obtain his Ph.D. in astrophysics in 1996 from Paris University. After graduation, Olivier embarked on a trip around the world in 83 days during which he was able to secure a post-doctoral fellowship at the W.M. Keck Observatory.
He moved to Hawaii in 1997 and obtained a tenured position with the French national research agency in 1999 to be stationed at the Canada France Hawaii Telescope where
he works in the field of experimental astronomy. Olivier is currently interested in different modes of understanding, especially those at the interface between art and science. In his spare time, Olivier enjoys painting, writing, surfing, playing the guitar, riding motorcycles and playing with his son.


On the first Saturday of each month, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) hosts The Universe Tonight, a special presentation on the current research and discoveries occurring on Mauna Kea. The presentation begins at 6:00 PM and is followed by the regular evening stargazing program at the VIS.

The Universe Tonight typically features an astronomer from one of the observatories on Mauna Kea giving a presentation on recent observations and discoveries from their telescope. Observatories are on a rotating schedule. If you would like to know about upcoming presentations, please call the VIS at (808) 961-2180 during operational hours.

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