Director's Dialogue Informs and Delights Audiences
September 30, 2009
Subaru's Director, Dr. Masahiko Hayashi, educated and engaged audiences with his presentation at Keck Observatory's Hualalai Learning Theater in Waimea on September 17th and then again at `Imiloa Astronomy Center's planetarium in Hilo on September 19th. Dr. Hayashi chose a new, accessible format for his contribution to the Directors' Lecture Series, a special series of lectures by each director of the Mauna Kea observatories to celebrate the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Adopting a conversational, talk story style, Dr. Hayashi wove together a lecture, discussion of images, dialogue with Subaru staff member Mr. Toga Togo, and a question and answer period, all the while focusing on his theme for the evening: a dialogue about astronomy and Subaru's discoveries.
He began with a review of Subaru's development from 1991-1999, explaining that the production of the Subaru Telescope was very expensive ($395 million dollars) because it combined so many special, state-of-the-art technological features into one telescope. Now celebrating ten years of operation since first light in 1999, observations from the Subaru Telescope have significantly contributed to scientific discoveries about star, planet, and galaxy formation.
Of particular note was Suprime-Cam, Subaru's most important and popular camera. It is the only camera among 8-10 meter telescopes that captures images at prime focus, and its wide field of view, which covers a sky area as large as the Moon, makes it particularly suitable for finding unknown celestial objects. Hayashi showed how Suprime-Cam enhances observations and facilitates discoveries by discussing its images of the Andromeda Galaxy, Orion Nebula, and star-forming region S106. He commented that the Subaru Telescope has given us images of objects over 12.9 billion years old, at the edge of the Universe and close to the time of the Big Bang. A side-by-side comparison of Subaru's infrared image with Hubble's optical image of the Orion Nebula prompted gasps of appreciation for Subaru's clear resolution of the young stars and protoplanetary disks hidden behind the dark cloud. Finally, Hayashi proudly announced that Albert Gore, in his award-winning documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth", chose Subaru's image of S106 to represent the Universe.
Complementing the lecture, Director Hayashi and Mr. Togo shared the next segment in an interesting and often witty dialogue about the Subaru Telescope and the science of astronomy. Dr. Hayashi purposely chose Mr. Togo to converse with him because he is a staff member whose interest in astronomy generates many questions about astronomical issues, although he is not an astronomer himself.
Dr. Hayashi fielded such questions as: "Is ET possible?"; "What is dark energy?"; and "Why is so much money spent for astronomy?". When asked about the mission of astronomy, he commented that astronomy has no single mission: "We do astronomy because we like to do astronomy... If we can show people how fascinating it is to study the Universe, this is good." Mr. Togo then asked, "What interesting things will Subaru Telescope find in the future?". Dr. Hayashi speculated that the next 100 years would yield more information about dark matter and extrasolar planets, which in turn could lead to answers about life forms on other planets.
In line with his intent to address the kinds of issues that intrigue the public about astronomy, Dr. Hayashi expanded his dialogue to include queries from the audience. A wide range of other fascinating questions and conversations followed: If the Universe is expanding, how do we know that we aren't expanding? How do you resolve the issue of the very oldest star being so close to our Sun? What is a star forming region and why do stars form there? Since the Moon is so close to Earth, why don't we know more about its formation and characteristics? Is there an end to the Universe? Although some of the answers to these challenging questions require the results of future research, Dr. Hayashi's dialogues about them sparked interest, fascination, and contemplation about the value of astronomy and Subaru's contributions to exploring and understanding the farthest reaches of the Universe.
The presentations were reminiscent of the very style adopted by Galileo Galilei in his famous work "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems", published in 1632. As such, they reinforced the 2009 International Year of Astronomy's celebration of Galileo's contribution to astronomy, which began when he first looked at the skies through his telescope 400 years ago.