$3 million gift puts Pan-STARRS project back on track

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Margot Schrire, (808) 956-6774
Director of Communications, University of Hawai'i Foundation
Posted: Mar 18, 2013

Pan-STARRS telescope
Pan-STARRS telescope
The cancellation of earmarks by the U.S. Congress in 2011 left Pan-STARRS, one of Hawai‘i’s flagship programs, $10M short of the funds needed to complete the historic 2-telescope system — and on the verge of folding.  

Thanks to an anonymous $3M gift, Pan-STARRS will survive the cuts and continue astronomy research of global import.

The Pan-STARRS project is an innovative design for synchronized wide-field telescopes developed at the UH Manoa Institute for Astronomy. Since it became operational in 2010, the first telescope in the system, PS1, has discovered more than 345 near-Earth asteroids, including 29 that are potentially hazardous to Earth, as well as 19 previously unobserved comets – like the one visible in our skies right now.

The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at UH Mānoa is building a second telescope, PS2, the second component to this landmark initiative. “Once PS2 is completed this year, the Pan-STARRS system will be by far the most powerful wide-field imaging system in existence,” said Dr. Nick Kaiser, principal investigator of Pan-STARRS at IfA. He continued, “This project involves multiple experts from around the globe and is critical to the science community’s ability to fully utilize new technology and tools being brought online.”

The $3M gift will

  • Support the construction activities of the Pan-STARRS project at IfA.
  • Pay for salaries for Pan-STARRS staff, preserving science jobs in Hawai‘i.
  • Bring new knowledge and support national security by bringing the world the most powerful wide-field imaging system.
  • Help NASA track satellites and identify astronomical bodies that may affect our planet.

“Before receiving this generous gift, we were looking at having to lay our team off and halting the 2-telescope system project,” said Günther Hasinger, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy. He continued, “Having already invested $80M in this project, it would have been a tragedy to let this program die, especially since we are so close to finishing!” Hasinger concluded, “Having to lay off our staff would have had long-term implications for Hawai‘i’s international leadership in astronomy. It has taken years to build up the qualified team we have here and would take years to rebuild our areas of expertise. Our team members and indeed our entire research community are deeply grateful to our donors for funding this research and literally saving jobs.”

UH Foundation Vice President for Development Greg Willems added, “A year and a half ago, when we started sharing the background story on the Pan-STARRS project with the donors, they saw a familiar pattern right away.” He continued, “Science programs and projects on the cusp of completion experiencing funding cuts and the progress gained put on hold indefinitely or lost all together.”

Willems continued, “The donors saw this partnership as an opportunity to help advance the research economy in Hawai‘i. The University of Hawai‘i is committed to doubling the research production of the University over the next decade. Critical to that plan is retaining and recruiting extraordinary talent. The Pan-STARRS team that had been assembled after years of strategic recruitment was at risk of being lost, and the donors recognized the need to preserve this team.”

IfA research has elicited global attention, and the Pan-STARRS project is building its international team and garnering support among colleagues in Canada and Australia.  

If you are interested in learning more about IfA and how you can support its research, staff and programs please contact Greg Willems at Greg.Willems@uhfoundation.org  or (808) 956-9927.

You can also make a secure gift online at www.uhfoundation.org/GiveToIFA

Photo credit: Photo of the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakala, Maui by Rob Ratkowski. Photomontage by Karen Teramura using an image of the Trifid Nebula taken with this telescope.