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Vol. I • Issue No. 22 FRIDAY • August 27, 1999
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UH, UK plan Haleakala telescope

By Paul Kuromoto
and Camille Naluai

Ka Leo Staff Writers

By 2001, Students from Hawai'i and the United Kingdom may be able to use the world's largest telescope, which may be built on Haleakala on Maui.

However, a lot of planning and consultation must still be completed before the idea becomes a reality.

Representatives from the University of Hawai'i and the Faulkes Telescope Corporation have signed a "memorandum of understanding" which reserves a site on Haleakala for the Faulkes Telescope.

The telescope's digital camera will have 4 million picture elements, said James Heasley, UH project scientist for the telescope, roughly four times the resolution of a typical handheld digital camera.

The entire array, Heasley said, would be able to view an area of the sky about half the size of a full moon. It will not have an on-site staff — it will be operated remotely by authorized individuals over the Internet from control centers in Hawai 'i and the UK.

Faulkes Telescope Corporation, a nonprofit organization headed by Martin "Dill" Faulkes and president Paul Murdin, will own and operate the telescope. The corporation was responsible for negotiating the arrangements with UH's astronomy institute.

Faulkes' registered charity, the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust Fund, is sponsoring the project. The fund's purpose is the advancement of education in the fields of science and mathematics.

"The main thing that makes it (Faulkes Telescope) important is that it is devoted to education," said Barry Labonte, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.

Heasley said, "Lots of people are interested in astronomy and the sky. That's our hook."

"This project helps students learn what science really is — by doing it themselves," he said.

But also an issue is the fact that some say Haleakala, like Mauna Kea, could be a sacred place for the Hawaiian people. Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies, said that it is "inappropriate to desecrate sacred lands."

Heasley said that because the site is in a state conservation district, environmental consultants will study the area, and a consultant will be hired "to evaluate the cultural aspects of locating the telescope at that site." Such studies are required a s part of the Conservation District Use Application to be submitted by UH to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Heasley said that an environmental assessment is also required and is being handled by a private Maui consultant, which has done other work for UH. It is being done concurrently with operational plan negotiations with the British.

Although the assessment addresses only the area of land the site is designated for, the astronomy institute is working on a comprehensive plan for its portion of mountaintop.

Jackie Miller, associate coordinator for the UH environmental center, said the Faulkes Telescope will have a modest environmental impact, and that the people of Maui will have a chance to ask questions about the issue once the assessment has been revie wed.

When the first UH Haleakala telescope, the Mees Solar Observatory, was dedicated in 1964, there were concerns about the native bats, birds and plant life on the mountain. Miller said there was little environmental harm done to the mountain.

Heasley said the Mees observatory is located on a part of the mountain mostly unseen from lower elevations. The Faulkes telescope will be built next to the Mees Observatory, so it would also have a "small visual impact," he said.

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