April 26, 2019

26.06.10- Pan-STARRS on Patrol.

You can rest a little easier tonight; astronomers now have a new and powerful tool in the hunt for killer space rocks. The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System or Pan-STARRS went online recently May 13th. Placed atop Haleakala, Pan-STARRS was constructed by engineers and astronomers at the University of Hawaii and is now owned and operated by a group of 10 institutions known collectively as the PS1 Science Consortium. The mission of Pan-STARRS is simple and straight forward; to survey the entire night sky and use sophisticated search algorithms to see if anything has moved from night to night. By rejecting known or identified objects, Pan-STARRS can go after objects of particular concern; Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) sometimes also termed Potentially Hazardous Asteroids or PHA’s. To do this, Pan-STARRS is equipped with a 60” inch diameter telescope and the largest digital camera ever built, containing a total of 1,400 megapixels. This allows it to capture a wide field area 40 times as large as the Full Moon, and it will take 500 such exposures each night. Gigantic survey projects such as Pan-STARRS pose a major challenge for data transmission and storage; Pan-STARRS will generate 4 terabytes of data per night: this will all be analyzed and archived at Maui’s High Performing Computing Center. Pan-STARRS 1 is also a forerunner to an even more ambitious project known as Pan-STARRS 4 which will be four times as powerful. Not only will Pan-STARRS discover an expected 100,000 asteroids, but it will also catalog an estimated 1 billion stars and half as many galaxies. Expect the usual complement of comets bearing the Pan-STARRS name as generally happens during any automated deep sky survey, as well as a flood of imagery just awaiting amateur perusal… I’m gonna need a faster Internet connection yet again!

28.04.10-Green Light Given for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

Move over, SDO: the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy is going to kick the telescope envy game up  a notch.  The National Science Foundation gave the go ahead earlier this year to break ground on the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), a 4-meter Sun dedicated platform to be built atop Haleakala Mountain on the big island of Hawaii. When completed in 2017, ATST will be the largest solar telescope in existence. From this pristine site, the ATST will deliver resolution in the order of 0.1” arc seconds and have imaging capabilities spanning the ultraviolet to infrared spectrum. Originally in jeopardy of ever reaching construction, a deposit of $146 million courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act breathed new life into ATST.  8-year costs are expected to extend to about $298 million dollars total. ATST will join a growing battery of telescopes atop windswept Haleakala, including the Mees Solar observatory, the USAF Advanced-Electro-Optical System, and the Faulkes Telescope North. Environmentalists oppose the construction of the telescope, as they have for most of the instruments constructed on the big island of Hawaii. It is interesting to note, however, that where observatories are built land is usually preserved, as these instruments tend to need remote undeveloped wilderness to operate. In fact, the foot print of telescopes on the environment is pretty small compared with the average strip mall… perhaps a dual use/protection agreement would be equitable to all parties concerned? Whatever is the case, the future looks bright (pun intended) as both NASA and the NSF received boosts to pursue solar physics over the next decade.