Prince on hand for telescope ceremonies; activist interrupts Maui signing

The Maui News and The Associated Press

Prince Andrew of Britain helped celebrate three telescopes on Maui and the Big Island this past weekend.

The first of a new pair of 8-meter infrared telescopes sits at the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

The Gemini North telescope, one of the largest in the world, was built by a partnership of seven nations. Its twin, Gemini South, is under construction on Cerro Pachon in northern Chile.

``This, quite obviously, is an international collaboration at its best,'' Prince Andrew said at Friday's dedication of Gemini North. ``And seven nations have come together to build what is arguably the best telescope in the world.''

``This observatory symbolizes our hopes for a new era of scientific exploration and collaboration,'' said Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Observations from the two telescopes will help astronomers answer questions about the age and evolution of the universe, officials said.

The United States, Great Britain, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina are participating in the $193 million project, with almost half of the funding coming from the United States.

The Gemini telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors to collect and focus starlight with extraordinary precision.

At infrared wavelengths, the technologies make it possible, at times, to achieve even more clarity than is possible with the Hubble Space Telescope, the officials said.

Gemini North is expected to start scientific operations by mid-2000, and Gemini South about a year later.

The Gemini Observatory Project is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., a nonprofit consortium of 29 U.S. institutions and five international affiliates.

Then on Saturday, Prince Andrew presided over midday signing ceremonies at Maui's High Tech Park to bring to Haleakala the Faulkes telescope. The instrument is a collaboration of the University of Hawaii and Faulkes Telescope Co. of England. The telescope, with a 2-meter mirror, will be the world's largest telescope for educational and scientific outreach when it starts operating in April 2001.

The prince remarked that young people aren't the only ones motivated by astronomy; he himself is very interested in the science of the universe.

Just before the signing, Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. of Pukalani interrupted the ceremonies to ask if Native Hawaiians will be included in the planning of the telescope, to protect the spirituality of the crater.

The prince responded that he didn't know how to answer Maxwell's questions. Maxwell then left the room.


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