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NASA IRTF, UKIRT Celebrate 25 Years of Discovery

IRTF-UKIRT 25th Anniversary

E o kakou kia`i mai ka po mai
E nana ia mai na po`e
Noho a hana i kou Mauna . . .

Pili mai na po`e o Hawai`i
I ka no`eau
I ka na`auau
I ka maopopo
I ke aloha . . .

O, our guardians from remote antiquity
Watch over our people
Who live and work on your mountain . . .

Bring together the people of Hawaii
In knowledge
In wisdom
In understanding
In love . . .

With these inspiring words from Hawaiian chanters Leilehua Yuen, Koa Ell, and Manu Josiah, the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration for the Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) and the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) began at the UH Hilo Campus Center on October 28. The IRTF and the UKIRT were the first major infrared telescopes and so were pioneering facilities.

Both telescopes were planned and built at a time when infrared astronomy was a very young field and Mauna Kea was still an unproven site. The first infrared astronomers were physicists who invented much of the infrared technology and observing techniques.

Much has changed in the past 25 years. Infrared astronomy has matured into one of the mainstream fields in astronomy, and most astronomers are now convinced that Mauna Kea is indeed the best site in the world for astronomy.

Each of these telescopes has contributed an enormous amount to infrared astronomy—not only in scientific results, but more importantly in the training of future researchers and leaders in the field. Notable past users of the IRTF and UKIRT have included Steven Beckwith, current director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which manages the Hubble Space Telescope, and Richard Ellis, current director of Palomar Observatory and one of the leaders in the development of the Thirty-Meter Telescope project.

A total of about 150 current and former staff members of the IRTF and UKIRT attended the celebration, including the first directors of the IRTF and UKIRT, Eric Becklin and Terry Lee, respectively; the first director of the IfA, John Jefferies; two more former IRTF directors, David Morrison and Robert Joseph; and former UKIRT director Thomas Geballe.

At the celebration, Becklin and Ellis presented a summary of the scientific results produced by the IRTF and UKIRT, respectively. Each telescope has contributed significantly to many areas of astronomy, notably planetary science, star formation, and cosmology. Jefferies also gave a speech that was elegant and poetic in summarizing his feelings about the development of Mauna Kea, a task that he undertook with a firm conviction of how important Mauna Kea was for astronomy.

Jefferies was introduced by the current director of the IfA, Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, who remarked that it was a book written by Jefferies on stellar radiative transfer that inspired him to choose the field of stellar astronomy. Thus was the circle completed, from the first director of the IfA to the current one, with a common goal of making Mauna Kea the best astronomical observatory site in the world.

See Why Use an Infrared Telescope?