The Pan-STARRS camera…not your basic flip-cam!
(Credit: Rob Ratkwoski, copyright PS1SC. All Rights Reserved, Used with permission).
While you were sleeping on the night of January 29th, 2011, astronomers both human and cyber atop Haleakala in Hawaii were on patrol. The telescope was the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), and the quarry was Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In one marathon night, astronomers Richard Wainscoat, David Tholen and Marco Micheli of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy bagged 19 confirmed NEAs, the most discovered in a single run. As reported in this space last year, Pan-STARRS 1 went online last May and is already starting to show its stuff. A 60” telescope with a whopping 1,400 mega-pixel camera, (Wow!) Pan-STARRS generates a massive 4 terabytes of data per night and may revolutionize not only astronomy, but innovative approaches in data storage and retrieval. Discoveries such as the January 29th bonanza also mark a new trend in the realm of hazardous asteroid research; namely, we’re getting much better at detecting ‘em before they hit. A large, unannounced Tunguska-like event is becoming much less likely. A more hopeful scenario is an early detection of a potentially hazardous space rock days or even years prior to impact, and this is in no small part due to scopes such as Pan-STARRS. Eventually, four instruments will sit atop Mauna Kea and/or the USAF complex on Haleakala, with the combined resolution capability of a single giant 3.6 meter instrument. Congrats to the Pan-STARRS team on their record breaking find, and keep that vigil going!