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Keck Observatory Hawaii

  • March 4, 2017
  • 2 min read

Located on the summit of Mauna Kea, the W.M. Keck Observatory is the home to twin Keck telescopes. Standing eight stories high and weighing 300 tons each, these are the world’s largest optical and infrared telescopes. Each telescope has a mirror composed of 36 hexagonal segments and is ten meters in diameter.

The California Association for Research in Astronomy or CARA operates the W.M. Keck Observatory. The University of California and the California Institute of Technology oversee the operation of both telescopes. The Keck I telescope has been in operation since 1993 and Keck II since 1996.

The farthest areas of the universe can be accessed through their precision. Thousands of miles of ocean surround the Big Island of Hawaii where the observatory sits in relative darkness due to the lack of big city lights and pollution. Telescopes are used to track distant objects across the sky.

Extremely large air conditioning units must run throughout the day to maintain the temperature of the domes at or below freezing. This is necessary in order to prevent problems with the telescope’s mirrors or steel formation.

Remote observing from the observatory is possible. In fact, W.M. Keck Observatory is the first facility to offer this feature. Remote observing allows astronomers to gather important data while others operate the telescopes.

The headquarters for the observatory is located on the Big Island of Hawaii as well. It sits on 7 acres in Kamuela, a town of approximately 6,000 people. It is the town’s largest employer.

Committees that approve requests as they come in allocate observing times. The telescopes can be used in shifts anywhere from one to five nights in a row. Only astronomers from seven different communities can use the telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory.

These communities include The University of California (UC), the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), University of Hawaii (UH), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the Gemini community, and the Subaru (NAOJ) community.

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