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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Hearings on giant Maui telescope start July 12

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — The public will get its first chance this month to comment on the environmental issues associated with the Haleakala summit construction of the world's largest optical solar telescope, the $161 million Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

The project's initial public scoping meetings will be at various locations on Maui from July 12 to 14.

The National Science Foundation intends to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed solar telescope, described as what will be the premier observatory for exploring and understanding the physical processes on the sun that ultimately affect Earth. The instrument is being designed with a 165-inch aperture, advanced optical technology and state-of-the-art instrumentation.

Haleakala was selected for the project after a three-year search that began with 70 potential sites around the world. In the end, survey data indicated that Haleakala offers the most hours with the best viewing conditions to maximize scientific output.

The National Science Foundation, through an award to the National Solar Observatory, plans to fund construction of the telescope at the University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy's Haleakala High Altitude Observatory site.

The telescope enclosure and a support building would be placed at one of two sites within the existing observatory boundaries, according to Jeremy Wagner, ATST project manager. One proposed site is next to the Mees Solar Observatory, while the other is on higher ground to the north by the MAGNUM and LURE telescopes.

Wagner said officials believe both sites are comparable for scientific viewing, but the one on higher ground may be more visible from areas below the mountain. It also may be an issue for neighboring telescope facilities, he said.

The EIS will examine these and other issues in regard to its location, Wagner said, and look at the potential environmental impacts of construction and the installation and operation of the new telescope.

The meetings will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The first is July 12 at Cameron Center auditorium in Wailuku; the second is on July 13 at the Kula Community Center; and the final meeting is July 14 at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani.

Comments and questions may be addressed to Jeremy Wagner, ATST Project Manager, National Solar Observatory, 950 North Cherry Avenue, P.O. Box 26732, Tucson, AZ 85726-6732, or faxed to (520) 318-8500, or sent to jwagner@nso.edu.

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