mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

New Telescope Projects

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Maintained by W-W

Progress in science is often closely linked to development of new technologies, so scientists and engineers are continually exploring new techniques to improve their ability to collect and analyze the light from the stars. Several such feasibility studies are currently in progress at the IfA, and three of these are described on this page.  


Most large astronomical telescopes are designed to study a small patch of sky in great detail. Pan-STARRS (short for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System)  is different in that its purpose is to survey the very large areas of sky very fast and very often. The immediate goal of Pan-STARRS is to discover and characterize Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids & comets, that might pose a danger to our planet. It is also  the ideal system for mapping the large-scale  structure of the Universe, as well as searching for astronomical objects that move or change, such as exploding stars, variable stars, and planets around other stars. 

Instead of one very large mirror, Pan-STARRS  uses four comparatively inexpensive 1.8-meter-diameter telescopes. Each of these telescopes is fitted with a very large (109-pixel) electronic camera, allowing them to image a large patch of the sky at a time.  The innovative technology in Pan-STARRS comes not from its optics, but from its use of very large electronic cameras and very powerful computers to analyze the 3,000 Gigabytes of data that will be collected every night. 

ATST  (Advanced Technology Solar Telescope)

ATSTThe National Science Foundation is funding a design study for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) whose purpose is to achieve high spatial resolution observations of the solar photosphere and to elucidate the role of solar magnetic fields from the density scale length of the photosphere up through the 6 million degree coronal plasma. The design study is being carried out by a collaboration of 22 institutions led by the National Solar Observatory with the IfA as one of 4 principal co-investigators.  

As conceived, the ATST will be a 4-meter aperture coronagraphic telescope that is optimized for its low-scattered-light infrared and coronagraphic performance. A 0.5-meter off-axis telescope has recently been built on Haleakala. This effort (called SOLAR-C) is funded by NASA with supplemental funding from ATST for "prototype" studies.

The IfA would like to see this new national facility come to Hawaii, either at Haleakala or Mauna Kea. The next 1-2 years are important both for the local site testing issues, and for the design proof-of-concept, which the SOLAR-C system may offer the NSO-based ATST design group.

HDRT (High Dynamic Range Telescope)

The HDRT is an ambitious design concept for what could be the world's most powerful telescope. It expands on ideas developed for the SSET project and uses six 6.5-meter diameter mirrors to form the equivalent of a 22-meter diameter telescope-double that of the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea.  

Adaptive optics systems similar to those first developed at the University of Hawaii will be used to achieve diffraction-limited spatial resolution of 0.014 arcseconds-good enough to read a newspaper a mile away, and much better than the Hubble Space telescope. It can also be configured to allow wide-field imaging of fields 2 tp 3 degrees across.