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Maui Keeps an Eye on the Sky

October 18, 2012
Susan Halas ( , The Maui Weekly

Telescopes, mirrors, deep space, fine measurements, making things really thin and really light, science on Haleakala and the dangers of light pollution--these and many more astronomy-related topics were on the bill at the recent University of Hawai'i (UH) Institute for Astronomy (IfA) annual open house held at its Maikalani headquarters in Kulamalu.

The event at Maikalani, the UH IfA facility for advanced technology research, drew an enthusiastic crowd of science-minded local residents and their kids for tours, lectures, demonstrations and frozen refreshments made with liquid nitrogen.

Laboratory Director Dr. Joe Ritter presented the opening lecture, which he called a "mlange"--a little of this and a little of that. His remarks touched on making very thin, exceptionally light mirrors that can take the place of heavier telescope mirrors. He talked about space sheets--big kites with mirrored, ultra-thin surfaces that move in space. He also explained the need for very precise measurements and making very tiny movements of very heavy weights.

Article Photos

The University of Hawai‘i’s Institute for Astronomy hosted its annual open house at Maikalani in Kulamalu on Friday, Sept. 28.
Photo: Susan Halas

On the local front, he talked about the dangers of light pollution and the need to be cautious and aware of the health risks posed by blue spectrum LEDs in street lighting.

Dr. Ritter showed pictures of the Hubble telescope, gave examples of what's happening on Haleakala, and moved it all along at a fairly rapid clip.

It was one of those illustrated presentations where you know it's in English, you know about 50 percent of the words and you grasp onto the ones you know as they go by.

Following his talk were remarks on "Sand: From Maui to the Moon" by Dr. Gary Greenberg, "The Roundest Object Measured" by Dr. Jeff Kuhn and "PanStarrs 1 Mission Updates" by Nataliya Prymak.

The metrology and microscopy labs were also open to visitors with institute staffers leading the tours.

Dr. Ritter took one group to a room hooked up with more gizmos than a Lego factory, where he briefly showed close-ups of some of the topics he'd mentioned in his lecture.

Asking for volunteer, he selected the smallest person in the group, Patricia Sung, a student at Seabury Hall, and asked her to lift a 2,000-pound weight. Not surprisingly, her best efforts did not really seem budge the ton.

"But, not much doesn't mean not any," said Dr. Ritter, pointing to the electronic read-out that showed Sung did move the object, however slightly.

After the tour, participants were ushered out into the institute parking lot populated by a bevy of visiting amateur astronomers with their own telescopes, who were only too happy to help novices adjust the eyepieces for optimum viewing.

Although it was a cloudy night and not the best for sky gazing, it was impressive to see just how many astronomy enthusiasts are in our midst.

Up on the second floor were other exhibits and displays, including a live feed from the Faulkes Telescope and a tour of the Pan-Starrs (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System) control room.

Among the handouts for the evening was information on the Akamai Workforce Initiative, including science and technology careers, jobs, employers, schools and training.

Maui and Hawai'i Island college students should note the Akamai program is recruiting for paid, high-tech summer interns. The program offers excellent opportunities for those with their eye on a high-tech career. Contact, call 573-9534 and visit

The Akamai program also offers summary sheets of local high-tech contacts at

Information was also available on Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST)-- a big-ticket installation on Haleakala for exploring and understanding physical processes on the sun that ultimately affect Earth. For more information, visit Reach the Maui office at 572-6888.

The Maikalani IfA Advanced Technology Research Center is located at 34 Ohia Ku St. in Pukalani. Visit or call 573-9500 for information about the next open house.



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