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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 7, 2005

Haleakala chosen for $161 million telescope

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Maui's Haleakala — the House of the Sun — was selected yesterday as the site of the world's largest optical solar telescope, the $161 million Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

The move capped a three-year search that began with 70 potential sites around the world and ended with Haleakala standing tall as best fulfilling the science requirements of the solar telescope.

"This is a major research project, a fantastic project," said Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy. "I am extremely happy that we are now able to attract this project to Hawai'i."

The approval was announced after the board of directors of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy formally endorsed the recommendation of a scientific review panel.

The telescope would be developed by the U.S. Solar Research Observatory in conjunction with the university, which operates the Mees Solar Observatory at the summit of the 10,023-foot mountain.

The only uncertainty now is money. The National Science Foundation, which has contributed $10 million to the project, needs to approve the rest of the money.

The solar telescope would be the second-costliest ground-based telescope in the world, behind the $300 million Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea. The project would create an estimated 50 jobs on Maui and might result in the relocation of the National Solar Observatory staff from Tucson, Ariz.

UH astronomy officials said they doubt that financing will be a problem, considering the project's high scientific review ratings, but it could take a year or two because of budget constraints.

If and when it is built, the instrument will be the world's largest ground-based solar optical observatory, using the latest advances in adaptive optics and other technologies to study the various solar phenomena that affect life on Earth, from wireless phone communication to global climate change.

"I honestly believe that it will pay for itself in months to a year once it's turned on," said Jeff Kuhn, a UH solar astronomer who helped develop the technology and prototype on which the project is based.

In addition to the Mees Solar Observatory, the Haleakala summit is home to the Air Force's Advanced Electro-Optical System telescope; Japan's 80-inch MAGNUM Telescope; the 80-inch Faulkes Telescope, devoted to education of students and teachers in Hawai'i and the United Kingdom; and the SOLAR-C, a 20-inch telescope and spectrograph developed to observe the sun's activities and corona.

UH is expected to begin environmental studies that will, among other things, examine where to build the observatory at the summit.

Officials said the telescope could be built near the Mees Observatory or could replace it altogether.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.