By Gary T. Kubota
WAILUKU » The summit at Haleakala is a step closer to housing a $161 million solar telescope.
The board of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy recommended Haleakala yesterday as the site for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope ahead of 70 other proposed sites around the world. The recommendation goes to the National Science Foundation for further review and potential funding.
"It's a big step," said Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. Institute officials are calling the proposed project "the greatest advance in ground-based solar telescope capabilities since Galileo."
At 4 meters in diameter, the telescope would be "the world's largest and most capable solar telescope," according to scientists.
Under the proposal, the solar telescope would serve as a solar "magnetometer," capable of measuring solar magnetic fields, with the goal of predicting changes in the sun.
The solar telescope could help to understand solar flares that can affect electrical power distribution, cell phones and satellites, according to the solar telescope project's principal investigator, the National Solar Observatory.
Observatory director Stephen Keil said astronomers have ranked the project "very high" in funding priority.
Keil said solar flares cause an estimated half a billion dollars in damage a year to satellites and communications, and predicting them would enable scientists and technicians to raise shields to protect sensitive equipment.
Haleakala was chosen from a field of 70 competing sites around the world.
The "clean air" at the 10,000-foot summit was cited in the selection process.
Kudritzki said there are two to three sites at the summit that might be selected for the telescope. The process for selecting the site requires an environmental impact statement, including a review of the telescope's effect on the environment and culture.
Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Maxwell Sr., who has been critical of the visual impact of observatories on Haleakala, said those involved in the solar project need to be sensitive to native culture.
He said every effort must be made to minimize its visual impact on Haleakala. Its builders, he said, should attend "sense of place" training.
"It is of utmost importance that this project or any project on Haleakala follow the Hawaiian cultural protocol," he said.
UH Institute for Astronomy
Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy
© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://starbulletin.com