mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

About the Institute for Astronomy

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The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) was founded at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) in 1967 to manage the Haleakalā Observatories on Maui and the Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island, and to carry out its own program of fundamental research into the stars, planets, and galaxies that make up our Universe. One of eleven research institutes within the University of Hawai‘i, it has a total staff of over  300, including about 55 faculty. Most staff are based at our IfA-Mānoa building, located in the city of Honolulu on the island of O‘ahu. Some are located on the neighbor islands, at our IfA-Hilo and IfA-Maui buildings.The Institute has an annual budget of $20 million, including $15 million in grants from the federal government.

Research at the IfA

IfA Manoa buildingThe Institute for Astronomy is one of the world's leading astronomical research centers. Its broad-based program includes studies of the Sun, planets, and stars, as well as interstellar matter, galaxies, and cosmology. Most IfA astronomers use the giant telescopes atop Mauna Kea and Haleakalā to collect faint visible light, including infrared and submillimeter radiation, from distant objects. They also use and support space observatories, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra (an X-ray astronomy satellite), to make observations that cannot be made from the ground.

Academic programs at the IfA

The Institute has close links with the UH Mānoa Department of Physics and Astronomy through the astronomy graduate program, which has about 40 students working for their MS and PhD degrees. IfA faculty also teach many introductory astronomy courses on the Mānoa Campus. In August 2014, the UH Board of Regents approved new bachelor's degrees in astronomy and astrophysics.


During the last thirty years, the state of Hawai‘i has become the most sought-after location in the world for the construction of large ground-based telescopes. The focal points for this construction are the 3,000-meter peak of Haleakalā on Maui and the 4,200-meter peak of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i (the "Big Island"). The remarkable clarity, dryness, and stillness of the air above these isolated high-altitude sites led to the commissioning by the University of Hawai‘i first of the Mees Solar Observatory at Haleakalā on the island of Maui in 1963 and then of the 2.2-meter Telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai‘i in 1970.