- What is the UH Hilo Educational Telescopoe (UHHET) ?
The UH Hilo Educational Telescope will be a small astronomical facility owned and operated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. It will primarily be used for educational projects and student-led research, student training in modern astronomical techniques as well as for outreach. Observing time will also be made available to younger students in Hawaii as well as to the general community.
- What is the story behind the UH Hilo Educational Telescope ?
The story of the UH Hilo Educational Telescope is complicated! It starts in the late 1960s when a small observatory was built on Maunakea by the US Air Force and NASA. That observatory was later transfered to UH in 1970, and then UH Hilo in 2003 for its undergraduate program in astronomy. Initially used for many scientific projects from planetary astronomy to extragalactic studies, the Boller & Chivens 24" telescope became then mostly used by UHH students.. However, because it could not be operated remotely and that some mechanical subsystems started to show their age, it was dificult to integrate its operations within the UHH program and laboratories. In mid-2000s, a NSF grant was obtained to replace the telescope and dome so that it could be operated remotely. Hence the original telescope was removed in 2008 and a 36" telescope was installed within a new enclosure (now named Hoku Ke'a). Unfortunately, this equipment was faulty from the start and was never really used after completion of the project in 2010. Instead of repairing it, UHH decided in 2013 to replace it again with this time state-of-the-art equipment offering great and reliable operational flexibility, more appropriate for training students. Funding was obtained (see below) and new equipment was purchased in 2016. However, the current summit site on Maunakea, which was first chosen for installing the new equipment, is now being decommissioned with partial restoration (completion: mid-2023). UH Hilo is currently working on the possibility to install the new telescope and dome at a suitable site on an area near Hale Pohaku, the mid-level facilities on Maunakea..
For a more detailed timeline, see this document.
For a more detailed timeline, see this document.
- Where did the financing come for the new equipment?
The telescope, dome, instruments and peripherals were financed by the State of Hawaii through a Capital Improvement Project (CIP) obtained by the University of Hawaii to refurbish its two observatories on Maunakea, the 2.2 meter and Hōkū Ke‘a. Planning and permitting for the eventual installation is funded by UH Hilo.
- Who will be using the UH Hilo Educational Telescope ?
The UH Hilo Educational Telescope will be mostly used by UH Hilo and UH-Manoa for their undergraduate astronomy programs, but time will be available for all students across the State of Hawaii as well. Faculty and students will use it for laboratories and small research projects as well as for outreach events and programs involving the communities. Moreover, because of its operational flexibility, UHHET can be used to build scientific and educational collaborations around the world, including other educational institutions and serious citizen astronomers. UH Hilo will also work closely with local high schoolers, teachers and the community to develop opportunities in conducting observations with the Educational Telescope. It is planned that UH Hilo students will be involved in performing those communty observations, adding to their own professional training.
- What kind of telescope is used for the Educational Telescope at UH Hilo and what are its advantages ?
The core of the new observatory is a PlaneWave Instruments 0.7 meter (28") CDK700 telescope. This telescope is very modern, and can be operated remotely or robotically. In term of telescope design, the CDK telescope uses a "Corrected Dall-Kirkham" optical configuration (so both reflective and refractive optics), and a tertiary mirror to send the light to two different instrument ports. This optical design has several advantages: it offers a large field of view with excellent image quality, and you can also mount two instruments at the same time, adding tremendous operational flexibility. The alt-az mount does not employ gears but coils and magnets, and high resolution encoders. Its pointing and tracking performances are exceptional. PlaneWave has built dozens of similar units so far, used all over the world.
- What observing modes are available?
Three different modes of operations are possible: Classical (where observers are present at the site), remote (where observers operate the telescope, dome and instruments at a remote location), and robotic (where observers are not present and the telescope automatically executes observations planned in advance). It is expected that a very large fraction of observations will be conducted remotely from the UH Hilo campus, adding flexibility to operations and educational training, while also limiting the human presence on Maunakea.
- What instruments are available for UHHET ?
The first generation of instruments include a CCD camera with a field-of-view of about half of a degree; sets of broad and narrow band filters are available. A fiber-fed echelle spectrograph for medium-resolution spectrocopy is also available on the second port of the telescope. A high-resolution planetary camera is also available for "lucky imaging" of planets and the Moon. A small slit spectrograph and a wide-field piggyback system will be available in the near future as well. We have plans to develop a small robotic Adaptive Optics system in collaboration with IfA-Hilo.
- What kind of observations can you do with UHHET ?
The telescope is equipped with an imaging system and a spectrograph. Observations on planets, asteroids and comets are possible. We can also study stars, stellar clusters, as well as planetary and ionized nebulae. Galaxies, active galaxies and clusters can also be studied as well as exoplanets. In brief, a lot can be done!
- What dome is employed in UHHET ?
The dome is a 18-foot enclosure built by AstroHaven Enterprises. It is of a clamshell design, using state-of-the art fiberglass technology. There is no rotation but the design of the dome allows access to all the sky very easily. Openings and closings take less than about 30 seconds and the operation is very quiet. The dome is semi-portable and can be installed in a few hours.
- Where will UHHET be located ?
At the time of writing (August 2022), a site near halepohalu. the mid-level facility on Maunakea, has been identified as a suitable site. The current Hoku Kea summit site on Maunakea would be ideal but is being decommissioned. More than 16 alternate sites have been investigated including Mauna Loa, but are not available or suitable for one reason or another. Notably, many sites on the Big Island had to be rejected to unfavorable weather, in particular high humidity and frequent cloudy conditions; others were not considered further due to severe light pollution or safety/logistic concerns. Clear, dark sky and favorable weather are the primary requirements but other criteria also played a role in our evaluation. From an astronomical point of view, the most suitable option is an installation at the mid-level facilities on Maunakea. The site identified is behind one of the dorms and is already used for equipment storage. It offers very dark skies, is not too windy or foggy, and is easily accessible from UH Hilo. We are currently working toward this optio, preparing an environmental assessement (in its final stage), design and a construction permit, while doing extensive public consultation. Site selection is a critical step which will affect the long-term viability of meeting community and University objectives for the UHHET.