Similar to a ball which slows down after it is thrown into
the air, scientists expected that the expansion of the universe
would gradually slow after the Big Bang that set it into
motion. When astronomers discovered that the expansion of
the universe is accelerating, like a rocket that speeds on
into space faster and faster after escaping the Earth’s atmosphere,
they were completely surprised. This landmark discovery was
based on research done at the Keck Observatory over the past
decade; indeed, this research could not have been done without
the immense light-gathering capabilities of the Keck telescopes,
the largest optical telescopes in the world. Three astronomers
were awarded the 2006
Shaw Prize for their work on the accelerating universe,
and the “dark energy” which they believe is causing the acceleration
they have observed. Saul
Schmidt, and Adam
Riess shared the spotlight for this profound discovery,
which has caused scientists to begin to rethink our basic
understanding of gravity, in order to better account for “dark
energy,” or the effect that accounts for the acceleration
of the expansion of the universe.
Click here for a video
clip of Saul Perlmutter discussing his groundbreaking research (requires
Quicktime player). Learn more about the work of the Supernova
Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter, and the High-Z Supernova
Search Team, led by Brian Schmidt. Read "Studying
the History and the Fate of the Universe."
"Astronomy does not belong to astronomers alone. The discoveries
from giant telescopes in remote locations belong as much to
the public, which has financed them, as they do to the scientific
community. They belong, especially, to the young, whose exposure
to science and its benefits is enhanced considerably by the
dissemination of astronomical results." - Report
of the National Science Foundation Division of Astronomical
Sciences Senior Review Committee, October 2006.
|Photo: Visitors to Keck Observatory telescopes
enjoy the spectacular view from the summit of Mauna Kea,
at the Observatory Open House on October 7, 2006. Photo
by Richard Cohen.
In the U.S. the field of astronomy has evolved with little
coordination among observatories around the country. Though
it quickly became obvious that not every university campus
was a suitable location for its own telescope, because of unfavorable
weather patterns and light pollution, there was no overall
plan for a national system of telescopes to serve U.S. astronomers.
Similarly, federal funding for astronomy has not followed a
coordinated plan, but rather focused on worthwhile projects
on a case-by-case basis. As the costs of new instrumentation
for studying far-distant galaxies, the life cycle of stars,
and the fundamental processes which govern our universe have
risen, the need to selectively allocate federal funding for
new instrumentation for specific scientific priorities has
become clear. There simply is not enough public money to fund
new instrumentation for each independent observatory, and so
federal funders are now taking a systems approach to allocating
their resources. Future funding priorities include optimizing
the science performed at each observatory, in order to create
national “centers of excellence.” Another new priority for
the NSF is to maximize the “public dividend” which results
from engaging the larger community in discoveries at the frontiers
Read “Planning for the Next Generation
of Funding” to learn how Keck Observatory has embraced
its membership in the U.S. ground-based observing system and
strategically positioned itself to take full advantage of federal
On February 20, 2007, Director Taft Armandroff delivered the
annual “State of the Observatory” address to the staff of the
Keck Observatory. Keck’s staff consists of about 126 full-time
employees, of which two-thirds were hired from the state of
Hawai’i. With an annual base operations budget of $13.5 million,
with additional funding through grants, contracts, and private
support, the Observatory is one of the island’s largest employers.
|Photo: The summit crew works to correct
damage caused by the October 15, 2006 earthquake. Photos
by Sarah Anderson.
Armandroff took on the Directorship of the Observatory in July
2006, and this was his first ”State of the Observatory” address
-- an annual tradition of summing up the Observatory’s achievements
and ambitions in a presentation to the entire staff. An inclusionary
theme pervaded the address, which lauded Keck Observatory’s
unparalleled impact on science and scientists. “Absolutely
everyone contributes to making Keck an innovative, efficient
operation. This makes a difference in the science we do and
in the impact we have on the community and the world,” asserted
Click here for a video
clip of Taft Armandroff sharing his commitment to keep Keck
Observatory the most scientifically productive observatory
in the world. Video by Marc Boucher (requires Quicktime player).
Learn more about “Progress and Prospects
at the W. M. Keck Observatory,” as highlighted by Director
In January and February 2007, scientists and engineers from
the Keck Observatory and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
Facility, both headquartered in Waimea, visited approximately
1030 students in 34 classrooms at 9 schools in North and South
Kohala. The goal of the Journey
through the Universe Program is to build bridges between
observatories and local schools. Through outreach programs
like this, astronomers and engineers at Keck form long-term
partnerships with science teachers in local schools, where
they bring hands-on science experiences into
classrooms and help to make science more approachable and interesting
for the students. Ideally, some of these students are inspired
to take an interest in science, to work with Keck staff on
a project for the science fair, to become a student intern
at the Observatory, and maybe someday to become a scientist
or engineer who works on solving some of the world's pressing
|Photo: Galaxies NGC2207 and IC2163, photo
by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of Dr.
”As an astronomer who thinks about the universe every day,
it's a bit shocking to realize that many people don’t have
the faintest idea what's out there in space, how stupendously
old, unfathomably big, and incredibly strange the universe
is. It seems to me that every citizen of the universe ought
to have some basic knowledge of this amazing thing that is
responsible for generating literally every atom of their being.
Our children ought to understand why the Moon has phases, why
the Earth has seasons, and why we need to take good care of
this planet --- because Earths are very few and far between.” — Dr.
Gregory Wirth, astronomer at the Keck Observatory and volunteer
teacher in the Journey through the Universe Program
Join Dr. Greg Wirth and Parker School middle and high school
students for What Is Astronomy And Why
Should I Care? (This lecture provides an excellent, accessible
introduction to some difficult astronomical concepts, so enjoy!)
Other participating scientists from Keck Observatory’s 2007
Journey program were Dr. Randy Campbell, Dr. Al Conrad, Dr.
Mark Kassis, and Dr. Jim Lyke.
Keck Observatory encourages its employees to spend up to two
percent of their time on community outreach projects, like
the Journey project. The outreach efforts of Keck employees
are one big way they express their gratitude to the many people
in our Island community who support astronomy. Learn more about
how Observatory employees are making
a difference in our community.
The summit of Mauna Kea soars 13,796 feet above sea level and
offers near-perfect conditions for observing the universe.
An inversion cloud layer well below the summit prevents moist
ocean air and airborne pollutants from mixing with the dry,
pure summit air. The summit is clear of gas, particulate, and
urban light pollution and extremely dry - making it the world's
premier site for ground-based astronomical observation.
|Photo: Night falls at the Keck Observatory,
above the clouds on Mauna Kea . Photo by Rick Peterson.
Mauna Kea is home to the Keck telescopes, the largest optical/infrared
telescopes in the world, as well as ten other working observatories.
Seven of these observatories are utilized for optical and infrared
astronomy, three are used for sub-millimeter wavelength astronomy,
and one is used for radio astronomy. There are more major telescopes
located on Mauna Kea than on any other single mountain peak
on the planet. Visit the University
of Hawai‘i's website for a complete list of Mauna Kea's
observatories and their various website links.
The University of Hawai'i (UH) leases most of the land on the
summit from the State of Hawai'i and is responsible for managing
the summit area. This management area is called the Mauna Kea
Science Reserve. UH has assembled representatives of many sectors
of the community in order to develop appropriate protocols
to manage the Science Reserve on the summit of Mauna Kea in
a way that respects Hawaiian culture and the natural environment
and promotes scientific research in a sensitive way. The Office
of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) was established at the University
of Hawaii at Hilo in 2000 to serve as the stewardship entity
for the Science Reserve.
According to OMKM Director, Bill Stormont, “The Mauna Kea
Management Board and Kahu Ku Mauna Cultural Advisory Council
serve in advisory capacities to OMKM and the University, providing
an ongoing, previously non-existent, community link. Through
these bodies, and through routine dialogue, the tenant observatories
and the UH Institute for Astronomy have several means of receiving
advice and input on, and approval for, work in progress or
new development. The Mauna Kea Ranger Corps, established in
2001, is one of MANY concrete actions taken to ensure proper
protection and oversight of resources on the summit.”
For more information on the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, visit www.MalamaMaunaKea.org or www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko.
Read the Mauna Kea
Science Reserve Master Plan, adopted in June 2000.
Click here for a glimpse inside the