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From the Director

Dear Friends of the Institute for Astronomy,

While people are fascinated by astronomy's quest to understand the depth and richness of the Universe, they rarely feel that the discoveries made by astronomers have direct consequences for their daily lives. My wife said to me one morning, "Rolf, your astronomy research is really very interesting, but why don't you guys try to do something really important for humanity."

Well, actually, we are. Around Christmas 2004, IfA astronomer David Tholen and collaborators detected an asteroid that was designated "2004 MN4." At first, it looked as though this massive body might hit Earth. It was only after many nights of additional observations, weeks of careful analysis of all the observational data, and many very complex computations that they determined that MN4, now named "Apophis," will come very close to Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029. It will miss us by just 18,640 miles, a distance closer than the orbits of some satellites.

In the same way that people living near the ocean need a tsunami alert system, humanity needs a killer asteroid warning system to protect itself against this danger from space. The IfA will provide such a system. After years of very hard work, IfA scientists have developed plans for the Pan-STARRS telescope, which will allow us to detect 90 percent of the killer asteroids as small as 300 yards in diameter many years before they hit Earth. This will enable humanity to take measures to change the orbit of the impactor or to minimize the damage of an impact by, for instance, evacuating coastal areas if the asteroid will land in the ocean.

Soon after you read this newsletter, our Pan-STARRS test telescope on Haleakala (PS1) will start to survey the sky. Using the experience we will gain with PS1, we plan to build the full Pan-STARRS telescope on Mauna Kea. At its August 2006 General Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic, the International Astronomical Union, the worldwide organization of professional astronomers, called Pan-STARRS the key project to protect humanity from asteroids.

The next time you look up at the sky and wonder what surprises the Universe has for you, remember the IfA astronomers are also watching the sky and that we are trying to protect you from rocks falling from the heavens.

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki
Director, Institute for Astronomy


Mercury Transit Webcast

On Thursday, September 21, 2006, Mercury will cross the disk of the Sun. This event will be visible in its entirety from Hawaii. For more information on how you can see this event, go to the AstroDay Web site.




Haleakala Telescope Finds New Planet
PS1 Dedication
Searching for Life in the Universe
Grote Reber, the First Radio Astronomer

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, November 1, Frontiers of Astronomy Community Lecture by Prof. Andrew Liddle, "The Era of Precision Cosmology," 7:30 p.m., IfA Manoa Auditorium, 2680 Woodlawn Drive. More information

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