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The Polynesian Voyagers were some of the best astronomers of their time and brought the Hawaiian ancestors to these islands, using the best technology available at their time. Modern astronomy in Hawai‘i begins with King David Kalākaua, who invited an expedition of British astronomers to Hawai‘i in 1874 to observe the transit of Venus.
IfA astronomer R. Brent Tully made world news when he identified the full extent of our home supercluster of 100 thousand galaxies and named it Laniakea. The recipient of numerous prestigious astronomical awards, he has chosen to build on IfA’s global prominence by using $264,000 of his prize money to establish the R. Brent Tully Distinguished Visitors Endowed Fund for the Institute for Astronomy.
We look forward to hosting you at the IfA in early April. The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Manoa is the youngest Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD program in the US, but is widely recognized as one of the top astronomy departments in the nation. With the unparalleled observational resources of Maunakea and Haleakala, our graduate students have access to use the most powerful telescopes in the world -- and have the unique opportunity to propose observations of their own on all the telescopes on Maunakea, something that cannot be done anywhere else. The Institute for Astronomy is conducting active research in all subfields of observational astronomy, and a list of ongoing research projects can be found here. A list of current faculty can be found here. Our graduate program typically includes about 30 to 40 students, who can be found here.
IfA astronomer Alan Tokunaga and graduate student Alain Khayat are part of the team that has discovered that the Red Planet had more water, and had considerable water for a longer time, than previously thought. They used the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, as well as the Very Large Telescope in Chile for this research.
A team of astronomers, including University of Hawaii at Manoa astronomer Eugene Magnier, used the 10-meter Keck II and Pan-STARRS1 telescopes in Hawaii to find a star that breaks the galactic speed record. It travels at about 1,200 kilometers per second (about 2.7 million mph), a speed that will enable the star to escape from our Milky Way galaxy.
Researchers wanting to know more about the influences of multiple stars on exoplanets have come up with a new case study: a planet in a four-star system.
The discovery was made at Palomar Observatory using two new adaptive optics technologies that compensate for the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere: the robotic Robo-AO adaptive optics system, developed under the leadership of Dr. Christoph Baranec of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy, and the PALM-3000 extreme adaptive optics system, developed by a team at Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that also included Baranec.
The newfound four-star planetary system, called 30 Ari, is located 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The system’s gaseous planet is enormous, with 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbits its primary star every 335 days.
On March 1, the University of Hawai‘i assumed ownership of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), formerly owned by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) of the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, the operation of JCMT was assumed by the East Asian Observatory (EAO), a consortium of astronomy agencies in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, under a scientific cooperation agreement with UH. JCMT will continue to be operated from the Joint Astronomy Centre Building in Hilo by most of the same personnel. Dr. Paul Ho, former director of Taiwan's Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics is now the director of JCMT.
The UH Institute for Astronomy is seeking a well-qualified individual to lead our Hawai‘i Island outreach programs. Are you that person? Or do you know someone who might be? Please see our job listings at the AAS Job Register and Work at UH.
Here is a brief video obtained by Mark Elphick and IfA's J. D. Armstrong using the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) Network telescope in Chile before this asteroid reached its closest approach to Earth on January 26, when it passed our planet at a distance of about three times that of the Moon.
Extrasolar planets are being discovered by the hundreds, but are any of these newfound worlds really like Earth? A planetary system recently discovered by the Kepler spacecraft will help resolve this question.
The new discovery paves the way for studies of the atmosphere of a warm planet nearly the size of Earth. The three new planets are particularly favorable for atmospheric studies because they orbit a nearby, bright star. Next, the team of astronomers that made the discovery hopes to observe the planets with the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories to determine what elements are in the planets’ atmospheres. If Hubble finds that these warm, nearly Earth-size planets have thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres, they will learn that there is not much chance for life.
A recent study by UHERO (the Economic Research Organization at UH) shows that in 2012 astronomy created an economic impact of about $168 million and almost 1,400 jobs in the state of Hawai‘i. The state taxes produced by astronomy totaled more than $8 million, and thus were significantly more than the State general funds that IfA receives.
This study is a snapshot of astronomy-related expenditures in calendar year 2012 and not a forecast of later years. It is expected that in years to come the economic impact of astronomy will increase due to the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and Thirty Meter Telescope projects, now under construction on Maui and Hawai‘i, respectively. Note that the size of the impact cited in the report may be lower than the actual impact, since the study did not include astronomy-related activities by the U.S. Air Force on Maui nor the non-IfA activities on Mauna Loa, and the visitor-related expenditures were underestimated, as explained in the report.
Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered a new super-Earth using data collected during its “second life,” known as the K2 mission.
IfA astronomer Christoph Baranec supplied confirming data with his Robo-AO instrument mounted on the Palomar 1.5-meter telescope, and former IfA graduate student Brendan Bowler, now a Joint Center for Planetary Astronomy postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, provided additional confirming observations using the Keck II adaptive optics system on Maunakea.