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Keck Observatory: Eve of 25th Anniversary of First Light

Posted November 23, 2015, 10:28 AM HST
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For 25 years, W. M. Keck Observatory has stood on Mauna Kea, with November marking the telescope’s quarter-century anniversary of first light.

On Tuesday, Keck Observatory will celebrate the anniversary with a gathering of Big Island school groups at Keck’s base facility in Waimea. Industry-leading astronomers and engineers will explore scientific and technological feats as students visit activity learning stations.

In 1985, the telescopes that would eventually become the world’s most powerful launched with $70 million from the W. M. Keck foundation. Construction got underway on the Keck I telescope. Later, the addition of $68 million in funds got the ball rolling on the construction of the Keck II.

Keck I telescope began operations in 1993 and Keck II was operable in 1996.

“Thanks to the pristine conditions on Maunakea and the incredible work and ongoing efforts of hundreds of Hawai’i residents, Keck Observatory has become the pride of Hawai’i, contributing more to humankind’s understanding of the Universe than any other research facility on Earth,” said Hilton Lewis, member of the original project team and director of the W. M. Keck Observatory.

Keck Observatory replaced the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory as the most powerful telescope in the world. Before Keck, technological limitations reduced the ability to expand on astronomy. Mirrors larger than Palomar’s weren’t made or supported at the exacting levels that science needed.

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The foundation of Keck Observatory’s twin telescopes was the innovative approach to gathering light through the use of smaller hexagons, controlled so precisely that they’d act as a single, giant mirror.

Today, the technology is used on telescopes grounded on earth as well as in space.

Over the past 25 years, Keck Observatory has been involved in thousands of discoveries. Some of the largest are noted below:

  • Keck was the first telescope to directly image planets orbiting another star.
  • The telescope determined that 20 percent of sun-like stars in galaxy have Earth-sized planets that could host life.
  • A supermassive black hole was proved to exist in the Milky Way, by Keck.
  • Keck telescope has observed the most distant and earliest galaxies to be formed after the Big Bang.
  • Discovering the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating and the subsequent revelation of a new mysterious force called Dark Energy, was a large discovery by Keck.

“Looking forward to the next 25 years, we are committed to deepening our engagement with our local community and inspiring our keiki to study science and technology,” said Rich Matsuda, operations and infrastructure senior manager for the Keck Observatory. “We are grateful for the opportunity join our community in making Hawai’i birthplace and home to some of the world’s most innovative science and technology.”

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