[meteorite-list] University of Hawaii at Hilo Joins Asteroid Hunt

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed Feb 8 12:36:24 2006
Message-ID: <200602081733.k18HXT816468_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


UH-Hilo joins asteroid hunt
Researchers will use a telescope on Maui to search for the threats

By Rod Thompson
Honolulu Star Bulletin
February 8, 2006

HILO - The University of Hawaii at Hilo has joined the hunt for "killer

The university announced it was joining the Pan-STARRS program, which
searches for asteroids that may be a threat to earth, including
football-field sized asteroids that could slam into the planet and
explode with the force of 1,000 megatons of TNT, 20 times bigger than
the biggest nuclear weapon ever tested.

There's a one-in-700 chance that an asteroid 300 yards across or bigger
could hit the earth this century, said Rolf Kudritzki, head of the
University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.

As part of the new partnership, a new telescope is under development on
Haleakala in Maui.

Developed to detect the danger, Pan-STARRS -- Panoramic Survey Telescope
& Rapid Response System -- is the first major telescope developed by the
institute in decades, Kudritzki said.

A new dome for a prototype of Pan-STARRS has been completed on Haleakala.

"First light," the first test images from the telescope, is expected
next month, said project leader Nick Kaiser.

Now is the time for Hilo astrophysics professors and students to join
the project since it has passed the construction phase, Kudritzki said.
"There is something for them to do (now)," he said.

Pan-STARRS isn't big. The Keck I and II telescopes on Mauna Kea each has
a main mirror 10 meters across, or 33 feet.

The Pan-STARRS main mirror is just 1.8 meters across, a bit under 6 feet.

The big telescopes are designed to look far away at a tiny point.
Pan-STARRS will keep its eyes inside the solar system, looking at an
area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon.

The preferred site for the full-scale Pan-STARRS facility, with four
1.8-meter mirrors, is on Mauna Kea, Kudritzki said. If an environmental
study is favorable, the four 1.8-meter instruments would replace a
36-year-old telescope with a single 2.2 meter mirror about 2010.

While the telescopes are small, the digital cameras they use will be the
largest ever built, each collecting 1.4 billion pixels of light. That's
200 times more than the 6 to 8 million pixel in a good commercial camera.

The light from the four telescopes will be combined by a computer, then
piped to the Maui High Performance Computer Center for analysis.

Every night the four-fold instrument observes, it will generate 10
million megabytes of information on dangerous asteroids, objects in the
Kuiper belt on the edge of the solar system, and theoretical, yet-unseen
"dark matter," Kudritzki said.

On Mauna Kea the fourfold instrument could find nearly all dangerous
asteroids in 10 years, Kudritzki said. If restricted to less optimum
Maui, the search will take 20 years, he said.

The price to protect planet earth: $30 million to date for the single
telescope on Maui, and another $40 million for the full set, Kaiser said.
Received on Wed 08 Feb 2006 12:33:29 PM PST

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