University will add telescope to Haleakala


Staff Writer

SCIENCE CITY -- Papers will be signed Saturday that will bring to Haleakala the largest telescope in the world dedicated to education and scientific outreach programs.

At 2 meters (80 inches), the Faulkes telescope will not be the biggest at Science City, but it will be the first University of Hawaii instrument added to the telescope farm in many years. By comparison, the U.S. Air Force's Advanced Electro-Optical System telescope, housed in an aluminum dome atop Haleakala, is 3.67 meters.

Gov. Ben Cayetano and Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom will attend the signing ceremony Saturday at the Maui Research & Technology Center in Kihei. Also on hand will be M.C. ``Dill'' Faulkes, who is financing the project, and Paul Murdin of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council of the United Kingdom, who negotiated the arrangements with the U.H. Institute for Astronomy for running the observatory and providing viewing time for students in Hawaii.

Faulkes is a mathematician in England whose research focused on astronomy, specifically creating relativistic models of pulsating and collapsing stars.

But he also created several software companies. Profits from selling those companies were put into the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust Fund to advance the education of the public in science and mathematics.

The Maui telescope is the fund's first project.

According to Jim Heasley, the Astronomy Institute's project scientist, U.H. astronomers and colleagues in Britain will guide students in actual research projects aimed at eventual publication in scientific journals. Another goal will be to encourage collaborative work using the Internet.

The concept of a 2-meter telescope devoted to student use was included in the university's master plan for Haleakala. There is a shortage of first-rate student instruments, and giant telescopes such as the Kecks on Mauna Kea are too busy and valuable to divert much time to beginners.

Planners considered Haleakala ideal for a dedicated student telescope, because its viewing conditions, though not as good as Mauna Kea's, are excellent, and it is convenient.

As proposed, the student scope would have drawn foreign students to Maui, especially from East Asia.

But it turned out that Faulkes was pursuing a similar project in England, and eventually the two streams were merged.

The telescope is expected to start operating in 2001, from an enclosure that will open like a clamshell. It will have advanced electronic sensors with 4 million individual picture elements (pixels).

Murdin, president of Faulkes Telescope Corp., says, ``There are plenty of science projects in which students carry out exercises intended to show what science is like. A distinguishing feature of the Faulkes project will be that it will show students what science is.''

The telescope was designed and is being built by Telescope Technologies Ltd. of Birkenhead, England. The Maui instrument is a twin of one, called the Liverpool telescope, that is going into service this summer in the Canary Islands -- another place that, like Maui, has high peaks and clear air.

Both high school and college students will use the Faulkes telescope.

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