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UH Hilo Joins Pan-STARRS Project

dome of PS1

Pan-STARRS PS1 prototype telescope on Haleakala. Photo by Brett Simison.

Astrophysicists at the University of Hawaii at Hilo have become partners in the Pan-STARRS project, an observatory that will search the sky for dangerous asteroids and other unexpected celestial events.

The prototype telescope, with a single 70-inch-diameter (1.8-m) mirror, is currently under construction on Haleakala and will shortly be outfitted with the world's largest digital camera, a device with 1.4 billion pixels. The full Pan-STARRS observatory, which is expected to be completed in 2009, will have four such mirrors and will survey the whole sky several times each month.

Scientists on the Hilo campus will contribute both to the development of the system and to reaping the scientific rewards that will follow once the observatory becomes operational. Students and faculty at UH Hilo will also be active in spreading the word of the educational opportunities arising from the project in the local community and will develop material that can be used in high schools to promote the project.

A major goal of Pan-STARRS is to discover and characterize Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids and comets, that might pose a danger to our planet. However, the huge volume of images produced by this system will provide valuable data for many other kinds of scientific programs.

The final system is planned to replace the University's 36-year-old 2.2-meter (88-inch) telescope on Mauna Kea. IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki said, "Pan-STARRS is the first major telescope facility to be developed by the IfA in several decades. It leverages the unique features of Hawaiian observing sites, which deliver the sharpest images on the planet, as well as the enormous strengths in both technological and scientific skills that have been built up at the University. Larger telescopes on Mauna Kea will be used to follow up the discoveries of Pan-STARRS."

"We welcome the participation of our colleagues and students from UH Hilo," said Nick Kaiser, leader of the project. UH Hilo Physics Department Chair Robert Fox said, "Our involvement with Pan-STARRS greatly expands UH Hilo's ability to provide a unique astronomy education on the slopes of one of the world's premier observational sites."

Pan-STARRS public Web site