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Rolf-Peter Kudritzki

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From the Director

This newsletter contains an article about my colleague John Johnson's outstanding work using the UH 2.2-meter telescope to measure the precise orbits of planets around distant stars. When completed in 1970, this telescope was the largest on Mauna Kea and the eighth largest optical telescope in the world. At that time, I was a graduate student at Technische Universität Berlin in Germany. I remember very clearly my supervisor saying, "They are building this new telescope on top of this extremely high volcano." Then he shook his head and continued, "It is never going to work."

Indeed, many astronomers felt that it was extremely risky to operate a large telescope at an altitude of 14,000 feet. It simply seemed too technologically complex and too daunting a task to be carried out in the thin, oxygen-poor air. However, the astronomers and engineers at the IfA were courageous, confident, and very competent. Soon after its completion, the new UH telescope started to outperform most of the others on this planet. This was the beginning of the success story of astronomy in Hawaii and of the IfA. Because of this success, which demonstrated the unparalleled observing conditions on Mauna Kea, the UH 2.2-meter was soon dwarfed by larger telescopes built on that mountain.

The UH telescope has made several important discoveries, and it is still used for important research, as John Johnson's project shows. In 1992, IfA astronomer David Jewitt and Jane Luu (UC Berkeley) discovered the first Kuiper Belt object in the region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. This discovery changed our view of the solar system substantially. IfA graduate students and their supervisors have used the telescope for spectacular projects such as the detection of numerous moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and the investigation of the Great Attractor, the enigmatic assembly of mass that is pulling the galaxies in the local Universe with enormous gravitational force.

The UH 2.2-meter telescope has also been used as a test bed to develop a series of innovative imaging cameras, including the one used by John Johnson. Another one of these is the Ultra Low Background Camera (ULBCam). Its unique infrared array detectors are prototypes for those on the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013 as successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

IfA astronomers have access to the larger and more powerful telescopes on Mauna Kea, but they still find that the 2.2-meter telescope is an extremely valuable tool for both research and training graduate students.


2009 Calendars Now Available

The poster calendar for 2009 again features a photograph by IfA astronomer Richard Wainscoat and design by Karen Teramura. In a departure from previous years, Friends of the IfA are requested to pick up their copies from the IfA Director's Office or call 956-6665 to arrange mail delivery.  They are not being sent to Friends automatically to save mailing costs.




Following the Trail of Heavy Ions in the Solar Corona
Johnson Measures Precise Size of Exoplanet
It's About Time

Upcoming Events

The observatories on Mauna Kea are sponsoring many International Year of Astronomy activities. For a list, see Events on Maui and Oahu are still in the planning stages and will be announced later.
IYA international website:
IYA website for the United

More Events>>