University of Hawaii System newsletter

Pan-STARRS Telescope Begins Science Mission

Posted on | June 25, 2010 | Comments Off on Pan-STARRS Telescope Begins Science Mission

Observatory on Haleakala

The PS1 Observatory on Haleakalā, Maui. Photo by Rob Ratkowski.

The Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaiʻi started surveying the sky for killer asteroids on May 13. The 1.8 meter (60-inch) diameter telescope on Haleakalā is designed to automatically search the skies for objects that either move or change their brightness from night to night. It contains the world’s largest digital camera.

The giant digital camera will take over 500 exposures each night and send about four terabytes of data (equivalent to what 1,000 DVDs can hold) to the Maui High Performance Computing Center for analysis. Computers will rapidly compare each exposure with corresponding ones taken either a few minutes or a few days earlier to find objects that have moved or whose brightness has changed.

Designed and built by astronomers and engineers of the Pan-STARRS project at Mānoa, PS1 has now been turned over to the PS1 Science Consortium, a group of 10 institutions, including Mānoa, in the United States, Germany, United Kingdom and Taiwan that are funding the PS1 Science Mission.

“Although modest in size, this telescope is on the cutting edge of technology,” says Nick Kaiser, astronomer at Mānoa’s Institute for Astronomy and head of the Pan-STARRS project. “It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space.”

In the next three years, PS1 is expected to discover about 100,000 asteroids and to determine if any of them are on a collision course with Earth. It will catalog five billion stars and 500 million galaxies.

Read the news release.