HALEAKALA - A new 1.8-meter telescope has begun surveying the skies, looking for killer asteroids, the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy announced Wednesday.
The Pan-STARRS telescope began working May 13, the institute said, to make the world "a slightly safer place."
The U.S. Air Force is funding Pan-STARRS, which stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System. The system had a price tag of $68 million as of October, but an updated cost was not immediately available Wednesday.
ROB RATKOWSKI photo
The PS1 Observatory that sits atop Haleakala is pictured just before sunrise recently. The Big Island’s Mauna Kea can be seen in the background. Visible through the dome shutter are the telescope’s calibration screen, the secondary mirror baffle, the truss and the primary mirror covers. The spikes on the outside of the dome are lightning rods.
The telescope, with a diameter that measures 60 inches, is designed to automatically search the skies for objects that either move or change their brightness from one night to the next. It contains the world's largest digital camera, with 1,400 megapixels.
"Although modest in size, this telescope is on the cutting edge of technology," said Nick Kaiser, head of the Pan-STARRS project. "It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space."
The telescope was designed and built by astronomers and engineers of the Pan-STARRS project at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Now, it has now been turned over to the PS1 Science Consortium, a group of 10 institutions, including UH-Manoa, in the United States, Germany, United Kingdom and Taiwan.
The telescope's digital camera will take more than 500 exposures each night and send about 4 terabytes of data (equivalent to what 1,000 DVDs can hold) to the Maui High Performance Computing Center for analysis, according to the institute. Then, computers will rapidly compare each exposure with corresponding ones taken either a few minutes or a few days earlier to find objects that have moved or whose brightness has changed.
In the next three years, PS1 is expected to discover about 100,000 asteroids and determine if any of them are on a collision course with Earth. It is expected to catalog 5 billion stars and 500 million galaxies.
PS1 also will be used to compile the most comprehensive digital map of the 75 percent of the universe visible from Hawaii.
UH astronomers will use the data to search for killer asteroids, to find brown dwarfs and distant quasars, to watch supernova explosions in distant galaxies and to test their latest theories concerning dark matter and dark energy.
PS1 is the experimental prototype for the larger PS4 telescope, which will have four times the power of PS1 and is planned for Mauna Kea.
On the Net:
*?PS1 Science Consortium website: ps1sc.org/
* Other PS1 Consortium press releases: ps1sc.org/Press_Releases.shtml
* Pan-STARRS website: pan-starrs.ifa.hawaii.edu/public/