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The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 720 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ASTRONOMERS TO DEVELOP NEW
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2002
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      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 720
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.

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      UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ASTRONOMERS TO DEVELOP NEW TELESCOPES FOR "KILLER
      ASTEROID" SEARCH
      University of Hawaii
      Tuesday, October 8, 2002

      CONTACTS:

      Dr. Nicholas Kaiser 808-956-6898 kaiser@...
      Dr. Rolf-Peter Kudritzki 808-956-8566 kudritzki@...
      Mrs. Karen Rehbock 808-956-8566 rehbock@...

      http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/~kaiser/pan-starrs/pressrelease/

      Astronomers at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) have
      been awarded a $3.4 million grant by the Air Force Research Laboratories to
      design a new observatory to survey the entire sky and detect very faint
      objects. The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System
      (Pan-STARRS) is currently conceived of as an array of small telescopes, and
      sites on either the Big Island or on Maui are being considered. Planned to
      become operational in 2006, Pan-STARRS will be more powerful for survey work
      than all existing telescopes combined. A major goal of the project is to
      identify and track asteroids that might collide with Earth.

      Commenting on the project, IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki said, "I am pleased
      that the Institute will be able to play an important role in finding these
      hazardous asteroids that threaten humanity."

      Exploiting recent advances in electronic detector technology, Pan-STARRS
      will have revolutionary optical sensors with billions of pixels, or picture
      elements. The IfA is collaborating with Lincoln Laboratories of the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop the advanced
      detectors.

      The telescopes will have a very large field of view, allowing them to image
      an area about 30-40 times that of the full moon in a single exposure. The
      system will rapidly survey large areas of the sky, making it uniquely
      powerful for detecting transient objects such as supernovae, and for
      detecting moving objects, such as asteroids.

      Once operational, Pan-STARRS will generate huge quantities of data. To
      process these, the IfA astronomers have teamed up with the Maui High
      Performance Computer Center (MHPCC), and with Science Applications
      International Corporation (SAIC), a leader in the field of massive
      databases.

      The huge database generated by Pan-STARRS will be made available over the
      Internet so that others may use it for education and research. Kudritzki
      commented that the Pan-STARRS database will be "a unique opportunity for
      education."

      The currently favored design is an array of four relatively small
      telescopes. This would permit rapid construction, and would have a small
      environmental impact, because the system would be very compact. In fact, one
      possibility being explored is to house the system within the university's
      existing telescope building on Mauna Kea.

      The IfA is working closely with the Office of Mauna Kea Management, and in
      accord with the design review process set out in the Mauna Kea Science
      Reserve Master Plan, to develop a design that minimizes environmental and
      cultural impacts.

      The data from Pan-STARRS will be used to address many scientific questions,
      ranging from the origin of the Solar System to the properties of the
      Universe on the largest scales. However, a major goal of the project is to
      make an inventory of potentially dangerous asteroids.

      It is now widely recognized that a collision with a large asteroid was
      responsible for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,
      and that more frequent collisions with smaller asteroids present a real
      hazard. Fatal asteroid collisions are rare, but when they happen they can be
      very destructive. In fact, experts have determined that, averaged over time,
      the risk of dying from an asteroid strike is approximately that of dying in
      a plane crash. A number of recent widely publicized close encounters with
      asteroids have highlighted the risk.

      Congress has charged NASA to support searches for "killer asteroids." These
      surveys determine the orbits of the asteroids that they discover, and then
      project them forward to see if they will impact Earth. Pan-STARRS principal
      investigator Nick Kaiser comments that "current surveys have detected
      roughly half of the objects bigger than a mile in diameter. Impacts of this
      size cause global-scale catastrophes. Pan-STARRS will help complete this
      task and will extend the search to much smaller objects."

      The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii conducts research
      into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the Sun. Its faculty and staff
      are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the
      development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.
      Refer to <http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/> for more information about the
      Institute.

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