Mauna Kea Telescopes Brace for Impact
June 9, 2005
MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (June 9, 2005) On July 3rd at about 7:52 PM HST, comet Tempel 1 will collide with NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, and Hawaii is gearing up to witness this unprecedented event.
“It’s anyone’s guess what will occur as twilight ends on July 3rd and the collision obliterates the impactor,” said Subaru Telescope director Dr. Hiroshi Karoji. “If something profound does happen, Mauna Kea telescopes will see it in many different ways and quite possibly learn more about comets from that instant than in centuries of observations.”
Mauna Kea, and all of Hawaii, will have a front row seat during
the impact. NASA’s decision for the timing of the impact
was partially determined by the location of Earth-bound telescopes
and their ability to observe the event. Mauna Kea, with the
world’s best collection of giant telescopes, will be ready
to observe the event with a wide array of instruments when the
impact occurs near the end of evening twilight.
No matter what happens, the telescopes on Mauna Kea are doing everything they can to make the most of this collision. In particular, the world’s largest telescopes -- the W.M. Keck, Subaru and Gemini North telescopes -- have teamed up to maximize the unique capabilities of each facility:
- Subaru: Will characterize the strength of the comet’s surface by determining the size and distribution of rubble generated by the collision through mid-infrared imaging at a rate of up to 10 images per second. (808) 934-5086.
- Keck I and II: Will determine the composition of cometary ices and dust underneath the comet’s surface through high resolution spectroscopy. (808) 885-7887.
- Gemini North: Will monitor changes in the dust composition around the comet using mid-infrared observations pre, post and during impact. This will help determine if the comet’s pristine sub-surface material is similar to that which makes up the Earth and other rocky planets. (808) 974-2510.
"We are very excited about our participation in this unique astronomical event," said Dr. Frederic Chaffee, director of the W. M. Keck Observatory. "All the major telescopes on Mauna Kea are working together to be certain that we use the best capabilities of each facility. The data we obtain will be made publicly available as soon after the event as possible so that astronomers all over the world can begin to digest and interpret the results."
With a total light collecting area as large as a professional tennis court, the W.M. Keck, Subaru and Gemini North telescopes can see fainter objects in space at greater levels of detail than most other telescopes on Earth or in space.
“Most of the time Mauna Kea’s large telescopes have a healthy competition going on, to see things that nobody has ever seen before,” says Dr. Matt Mountain, director of the Gemini Observatory. “For a once in a lifetime opportunity like this we really want to make sure that all of Mauna Kea’s giant telescopes observe this event in a coordinated way. The common goal is to leave a legacy of knowledge for everyone.”
The public may participate in several Deep Impact events, all of which are free and open to the public:
- Saturday, July 2nd, 6:00 p.m., Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station: Public Lecture, “Cracking the Shell – What Might the Inside of a Comet Look Like?” Stargazing of Comet Tempel 1 to follow afterwards. (808) 961-2180.
- Sunday, July 3rd, 7:00 p.m., M W. M. Keck Observatory Headquarters in Waimea: Public may eavesdrop on observing and share the evening with professional and amateur astronomers. (808) 885 7887.
- Sunday, July 3rd, 6:30 p.m. University of Hawaii at Hilo, UCB 100: A panel of speakers will give mini-presentations and provide commentary on near images from the NASA Deep Impact spacecraft and a telescope on Mauna Kea. (808) 932-2328.
- Sunday, July 3rd, 6:00 p.m. Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station: Stargazing with 16-inch, 14-inch and several smaller telescopes. (808) 961-2180.
Comet Tempel 1 is now visible only through binoculars or telescopes. Scientists do not know what to expect at the moment of impact, but a huge plume of ejected material may cause the comet to brighten by several magnitudes. If the plume is bright enough, people may see a new star appear, near Spica and the planet Jupiter.
For links to more information on the Deep Impact mission and events in Hawaii, please visit: http://www.mkooc.org/deepimpact.html