Summer 2006 W. M. Keck Observatory 


Click here to see Dr. Fred Chaffee discuss this mysterious dark energy (requires Quicktime player).
Read the full story, W. M. Keck Observatory: Visionary Eyes on the Universe.



Photo: Keck I telescope stands watch over Observatory Advancement staff Debbie Goodwin and Joan Campbell. Photo courtesy of Val Kim.
In July 2005 the Observatory established an Advancement Office to help acquire sufficient philanthropic resources to fulfill our ambitious scientific goals. Our primary objectives are to communicate the exemplary achievements of this world-class Observatory and to secure at least $5 million annually in external funding sources.

As we approach our first anniversary on July 1, 2006, we are encouraged by our initial accomplishments and very grateful for the support of our donors, the Keck Observatory Board and professional staff. In our first ten months, we received over $5 million from 37 individual benefactors, businesses and foundations - meeting and exceeding our first-year goals!

Click here to read more.



In order to fully appreciate Keck Observatory's role at the forefront of scientific innovation, it's time for some astronomical acronyms!

Photo: First light for the Keck II laser guide star in 2003. The laser shines deep into the Earth's atmosphere, causing a layer of sodium atoms to glow. The resulting "virtual star" enables astronomers to study almost any object in space with Adaptive Optics. Photo courtesy of John McDonald, Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope
Adaptive Optics (AO) is a system of instruments that take the twinkle out of stars. Natural turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere distorts telescopic images of astronomical objects. The AO system helps to reverse the blurring effects of the atmosphere.

Laser Guide Star (LGS) is a laser which is used to excite a layer of sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere -- at an altitude of 95 kilometers (60 miles) high. The sodium atoms then re-radiate the laser light to create an artificial bright star, or an LGS. The laser can be pointed anywhere in the sky and can be directed very close to the object astronomers wish to observe. The LGS is used as part of an AO system to reduce image blurring of the objects they are studying.

Early in the 1990's astronomers at Keck Observatory realized that there were not enough naturally occurring bright stars in the sky to enable them to use AO to look wherever they wished. Plans to create an artificial LGS at Keck Observatory, by projecting a sodium beam deep into the Earth's atmosphere, began in the mid-1990s. The U.S. Air Force had been using a similar technique for two decades, and Keck scientists adapted the technology developed by the military to create a working LGS/AO system. The LGS can be directed anywhere in the sky that astronomers want, and the AO system allows astronomers to obtain much more detailed images than were previously possible. Keck's LGS/AO cutting-edge technology was a breakthrough for ground-base observatories -- allowing them to dramatically reduce atmospheric distortion of the objects being observed. This new technology has enabled Keck astronomers to detect a massive black hole at the center of our own galaxy and to observe radiation being emitted by material falling into this black hole.

The Observatory plans to install a LGS/AO system on the Keck I telescope in the next few years, in addition to the existing LGS/AO system on Keck II.

Learn why astronomers are standing in line to use Keck's LGS/AO system, as explained by Keck Astronomer Andrea Ghez.



Photo: Adaptive Optics specialist Bob Fugate seated at the table with the directors of the Mauna Kea observatories to envision future telescope collaborations on the summit. Seated from left to right: Dr. Doug Simons, Gemini Observatory Incoming Director; Dr. Fred Chaffee, W. M. Keck Observatory Director; Hilton Lewis, W. M. Keck Observatory Deputy Director; Bob Fugate, Visiting Adaptive Optics Consultant; Dr. Christian Veillet, Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope Executive Director; Dr. Masahiko Hayashi, Subaru Telescope Director; and Dr. Jean-Rene Roy, Gemini Observatory Acting Director. Photo courtesy of Bob Fugate.
Did you know that the Directors of the various observatories on Mauna Kea are meeting regularly to plan future collaborations? The fact is that new astronomical facilities can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct. Creative collaborations allow the Mauna Kea observatories to leverage their individual capital investments in new and unique ways, and to advance science with very little impact on the landscape. Certain scientific questions depend upon such collaborations among the great observatories on Mauna Kea. For example, studying the nucleus of a distant galaxy close to its central black hole is something that can be done in no other way.

The current generation of observatory Directors recognizes the importance of a regular exchange of information amongst their observatories. The Directors are also engaged in more formal collaborations like the OHANA Project. OHANA was the brainchild of Jean Mariotti, one of the most visionary interferometrists in the world. (Interferometry combines light from two or more telescopes to obtain measurements with higher resolution than could be obtained with one telescope individually. When spread out over a wide area, astronomical interferometer arrays can together produce a picture with resolution similar or equivalent to a single telescope with the diameter of the combined spread of telescopes.) Because of France's partnership in Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope, Mariotti and his colleagues at l'Observatoire de Paris recognized that Mauna Kea was an ideal place to build the largest optical/infrared interferometer ever conceived -- by interconnecting the telescopes that exist here. The Mauna Kea interferometric array will allow data from all of the participating telescopes to be combined, to produce complementary results that can enhance our understanding of specific scientific phenomena.

Read an interview with the Keck Observatory Director about the OHANA Project.



"What is beyond the universe? What is out there, what is beyond my reach? We are so caught up in the world we need to look beyond into the infinite nothing." - First verse of Beyond, an original song composed and performed by young artist Lindsey D. Appleton. Read the rest of the Beyond lyrics.

Photo: Airborne dancers perform "Nebulae and the Protostars," choreographed by Hoku Project Coordinator, Nancy Candea. Photo courtesy of Sarah Anderson.
In Hawaiian, hoku means star. Stars hold a great deal of significance to Pacific Island peoples, including the Hawaiians. Traditional Polynesian navigators relied upon celestial, non-instrumental navigation to travel thousands of mile across the open ocean among remote Pacific islands. Keck Observatory continues this tradition of reverence for the stars from its home on Hawai'i Island. The Hoku Project was sponsored by Keck Observatory and by the Kahilu Theatre Foundation to celebrate the importance of astronomy to our Island community and to engage our youth in the spirit and the fruits of this celebration.

The Hoku Project Infinite Journey Dance Concert was the culmination of a series of events, including: a public lecture, a family Astro Day, cultural presentations, and stargazing at the Onizuka Visitor Center at the 9,000-foot elevation on Mauna Kea. The Hoku Concert raised a total of $5,250 to benefit the Hoku Scholarship fund for Hawai'i students interested in pursuing careers in astronomy, physics, mathematics, engineering, technology, or computer sciences. For more information on how to contribute to the fund or how to apply for a scholarship, please contact the Hawai'i Community Foundation at 808.885.2174.

Read more about the ripple effects of this project.

Download brief excerpts from the "Celestial Sequence: Stars to Supernovae" (8.7 MB) or "fan" dance, and from Jason Gamer's musical interlude, "Vastness of the Cosmos" (10.3 MB) - set against a backdrop of stunning astronomical images selected by Keck Support Astronomer Randy Campbell. Video clips courtesy of Terry Warner of Duck Pond Productions.



Photo: Two Konawaena team members, Joel Furuto (left) and Brandon Kunitake (right), prepare "Scuby Dude" to complete its underwater mission at the recent Big Island Regional ROV competition.
The first-ever Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition was held on Hawai'i Island this spring. Several enthusiastic Keck Observatory scientists and engineers volunteered to serve as the judges for this event. The Big Island ROV Regional (BIRR) was sponsored by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (www.marinetech.org) (MATE) and was open to Island middle and high schools. Eight teams from eight Island Schools competed, maneuvering their custom ROVs in underwater missions at the Kona Aquatic Center. Roughly 60 students participated on competition day, but many more participated at the school level.

Teams consistently said they enjoyed working together, resolving differences, getting the job finished, and seeing the end product run. The winning team from Konawaena High School overcame the loss of their team leader at a late stage -- yet managed to produce a very interesting technical solution. They were the only team who managed to complete the three assigned underwater tasks. On June 23, the Konawaena team will compete at the MATE national competition at the Johnson Space Center Houston, Texas. Konawaena students will compete against teams from around the world as they attempt to steer "Scuby Dude," their ROV, on an underwater mission at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Good luck to their Coach, Craig Fuller, and to all the Konawaena team members!

The Keck judges are bubbling with enthusiasm about this year's ROV competition. Read more here.