Kane'ohe observatory to be dedicated
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
KANE'OHE — To get to the solar telescope atop the Lanihuli Observatory at Windward Community College, astronomy professor Joe Ciotti has to climb an aluminum ladder to the roof.
One night, while Ciotti was on the roof of the observatory, the ladder toppled.
Luckily for him, the ladder got caught on a rain gutter, and he was able to get down.
"No one was around," Ciotti recalled, laughing. "I would have been stuck up there for a while."
A safe and secure staircase leading to the solar telescope is just one of the things the college's Center for Aerospace Education, of which the observatory is a part, needs.
And these things — the new staircase was estimated at $18,000 — cost money.
With the completion of the observatory, which was funded primarily by private donors and will be dedicated on Friday in a private ceremony, the college is now looking at establishing an endowment fund to help with maintenance and improvement costs.
Already, the other facilities in the center's complex need upgrades.
The Hokulani Imaginarium needs a new projector system, which could cost $250,000 to $1 million.
The observatory could use a cosmic-ray telescope, priced at about $4,000.
And its optical telescope could use a robotic upgrade, allowing Ciotti to show the telescope's images on a large screen. That would cost $10,000 more.
"Technology has really leap-frogged on us," Ciotti said. "We want to bring these up to current technology standards."
The Lanihuli Observatory is the last facility in the college's Center for Aerospace Education to be built.
The complex also boasts the Hokulani Imaginarium, the Aerospace Exploration Lab, the NASA Flight Training Aerospace Education Laboratory and the Hawai'i Space Grant Consortium. More than 10,000 students — from kindergarten through high school — visit the complex every year.
"The community outreach is a very important component to us," said Ciotti, who spearheaded the effort to create the aerospace center, a passion of his. "We want to get the young kids excited about science so when they move on to higher education, they're not intimidated. They'll still have that innate curiosity."
Already, the college has seen enrollment in the center grow. The astronomy classes boast the highest enrollment of all science courses, and the college now offers astronomy labs, a space exploration program and a new archeo-astrology class.
In fact, three WCC graduates are now telescope operators on Mauna Kea. "And they didn't even have the observatory," he said. "Could you imagine how many more we'd have?"
Ciotti, who waxes poetic about astronomy, isn't surprised by the increase in interest. He just hopes he can continue sharing with students his passion and enthusiasm for the science.
"When you look at the other sciences, you almost have to make an effort," Ciotti said. "But with astronomy, all you gotta do is walk outside and look up. You instantly make that connection with the universe."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at firstname.lastname@example.org.