Thursday, November 1, 2001

Haleakala telescope
set to break ground

Students in the United Kingdom
and Hawaii will benefit

By Helen Altonn

Groundbreaking and dedication will be held tomorrow on Haleakala for the first large "robotic" telescope planned for education and scientific outreach.

University of Hawaii

The blessing ceremony will be "a pretty low-key type of event," said Jim Heasley, project scientist for the Faulkes Telescope at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. However, the new-generation 2-meter (80-inch) telescope won't be low key.

It is being built in a partnership between the UH and the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust of Great Britain. It is owned by the nonprofit Hawaii-based Faulkes Telescope Corp. and will be remotely operated by students in Hawaii and the United Kingdom.

The only other large remotely operated telescope is a twin facility built by the United Kingdom for research in the Canary Islands, said Richard Cole, here from England to get the telescope up and operating.

Site work is set to begin early next month. The telescope, being completed in England, is expected to be on the mountain in mid-2002.

"Haleakala is one of the best four or five sites in the world for telescopes," Cole said in an interview. He said the Faulkes Telescope is "a research class telescope. It needs to go on a research class site."

Self-made millionaire Martin "Dill" Faulkes of England established an educational trust and provided $3 million, plus expenses, for the Haleakala facility.

The telescope's camera will have 4 million individual picture elements or pixels that can send images of the stars, planets and galaxies within minutes to schoolroom computers by phone and modem.

One of the reasons for putting the telescope in Hawaii is that it is 10 hours away from the UK in time, Cole said.

"When it is dark in Hawaii, it is light in the UK and students can use it in the school day."

Hawaii students won't be able to observe during daylight hours until an infrared camera is adapted to the telescope. Until then, they can program the telescope for "off line" observations as astronomers do with the Hubble Space Telescope.

The telescope will have no operator on site.

"You can think of it as a spacecraft," said Cole, who worked for years on satellite telescopes with the National Space Science Center in Leicester, England.

It will be operated in the UK from the National Maritime Museum and a secondary control site will be established eventually at Maui Community College.

UH Institute for Astronomy

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