WCC telescope gets stellar hat
|Photo gallery: Lanihuli Observatory|
By Tiffany Hill
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Tiffany Hill
KANE'OHE — It was as if Kane Milohai himself, in Polynesian mythology the creator of sky, earth and upper heavens, cleared away the clouds for yesterday's installation of a rotating dome atop Lanihuli Observatory at Windward Community College.
"It was like the birth of a child," said Joe Ciotti, professor of physics, astronomy and math at WCC. "It's been a dream of ours for over seven years (and) we had so much community support."
The dome takes the college one step closer to completion of the observatory's reflecting telescope project. All that remains is installation of the telescope, which is expected to be completed in time for a dedication ceremony in September, Ciotti said.
Meanwhile, the telescope sits inside the building awaiting its turn.
Lanihuli Observatory currently accommodates solar, optical and radio telescopes, but the new reflecting telescope will offer optimal night viewing of Hawai'i's skies.
The dome, made out of galvanized steel, weighs 3,100 pounds and is 16 feet in diameter. The $850,000 dome was paid for with private donations.
A local construction company donated a crane and crew to hoist the dome on top of the observatory roof, where it will house a 16-inch reflecting telescope.
"The dome ... protects against wind because you don't want a vibrating telescope," Ciotti said. "It also protects against stray light."
The dome will shield the telescope, which will sit in the observatory building on a concrete tower that goes into the ground but is independent from the observatory flooring. Inside the dome and the surrounding observatory, the temperature is kept the same as that outside to prevent turbulence. After those conditions are stabilized and the tower and staircase are painted, the telescope will be installed.
The new dome has two motorized doors, one that slides up toward the top center, the other opening outward directly below to create a viewing window for the telescope lens. However, the telescope will remain entirely inside the dome.
"The telescope will teach college students how to correctly use a telescope," Ciotti said. "And the community ... (will) be able to look through the eyepiece and see the rings of Saturn or the moons of Jupiter."
Marvin Kessler, an astronomy professor at WCC, shared Ciotti's excitement in the telescope and its new steel house.
"It'll definitely give us a great teaching instrument for our labs," Kessler said. "Students will get to work with a permanent installation like what real-life astronomers use." Kessler added that previously, the astronomy department tried to work with a temporary telescope but found it inadequate.
The reflecting telescope also will have cameras that will transfer its high-resolution space images to computers in the observatory's lab.
The Lanihuli Observatory is open to the public the second and fourth Fridays and second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. for free nighttime viewing, and is part of a handful of campus facilities contributing to astronomy interactive education. The astronomy complex has about 12,000 visitors a year.
"I think of it as a suite of astronomical experiences," Kessler said.
"We've gone from the ground to the roof, and now not even the sky's the limit," said Ciotti, smiling.