It Takes a Community to Support a Telescope

October 11, 2011

Photo 1: Astronomer Dr. Tadayuki Kodama answers a question from a member of the audience during his Mauna Kea Skies presentation in `Imiloa's planetarium.

Subaru Telescope is not only one of the world's largest optical-infrared telescopes but also an organization of people who contribute to its operation. The sources of support are complex. They range from Japanese taxpayers who fully fund the telescope to technical, administrative, scientific, and other professional staff in Japan, at the base facility in Hilo, and at the telescope on Mauna Kea.

Subaru Telescope is truly an international enterprise, but it is also an important part of the fabric of the local community. As a Japanese facility and organization situated on U.S. soil, Subaru Telescope is grateful for the support of the local community and shows its appreciation in a variety of ways: hiring local residents as staff, making a substantial donation to the University of Hawaii each year, providing free public tours, and participating in outreach and community events. Public speeches and participation in AstroDay are two major examples of how Subaru staff contributes to the local community.

Subaru's scientists and other staff often participate in two monthly programs: the Mauna Kea Skies planetarium presentations at the `Imiloa Astronomy Center (`Imiloa) and The Universe Tonight talks at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (VIS). Most recently, Dr. Tadayuki Kodama, a specialist in the study of galaxies and galaxy clusters, was the guest presenter for Mauna Kea Skies in June. He gave a fascinating overview of galaxy ecology, using Subaru's wide-field observations of distant galaxy clusters and their surrounding environments to show how clusters of galaxies develop and are shaped over cosmic time. Subaru's images complemented his narrative, and both reinforced his main point: "Shapes and star-forming activities of galaxies are highly dependent on the surrounding environment, or density, in which they live."

Dr. Frantz Martinache, a postdoctoral research fellow at Subaru, gave a talk entitled "New Tools to Image New Worlds" in The Universe Tonight program in May. He focused his interesting presentation on describing the most successful indirect methods for detecting planets that orbit around stars other than our own (extrasolar planets) and understanding their characteristics. He introduced a project in development at the Subaru Telescope called the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics Project (SCExAO). The fruit of this project will be an effective planet-hunter, and Martinache discussed what astronomers are likely to see in this exciting area of research.

Photo 2: Postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Frantz Martinache shares his excitement at Universe Tonight at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

While these presentations communicate Subaru's scientific findings and activities to the public, events like AstroDay and The Mauna Kea Coin Contest concentrate on drawing the community into the excitement of astronomy and conveying the value of the science being conducted with the Subaru Telescope. AstroDay was founded in 2002 by Gary Fujihara, a former telescope operator at Subaru Telescope. Modeled on a national, annual event called Astronomy Day, AstroDay was designed to communicate to the public a better understanding of astronomy on Mauna Kea. All of the Mauna Kea Observatories as well as many local astronomy clubs and organizations participate in the event.

At this year's 10th anniversary celebration of AstroDay, Subaru's space spanned a twenty-five foot long area filled with displays, handouts, and interesting activities. A popular activity called "Go-Fish for Objects in the Solar System" gave younger children and their parents a chance to use a magnet hanging from a fishing pole to fish for and learn about objects in our solar system. Another display focused on spectroscopy and learning about the information that light can give us about celestial objects. Visitors received a spectrum card that they could hold up to a variety of colors and kinds of lights to view their differences. In another activity adults and children alike enjoyed operating a miniaturized robotic cart that could move around in a small model of the Cassegrain floor of the telescope. They learned from daycrews about their work in setting up the telescope for observations and the significant roles that all staff at Subaru plays in supporting the telescope's operation. Finally, visitors enjoyed receiving "invitations" to Subaru summit tours, brochures about the telescope's operation and science, and beautiful handouts of some of the images from observations at Subaru.

Almost twenty Subaru staff volunteered their time to participate in Subaru's activities at this well-attended, daylong event. In addition, Dr. Kumiko Usuda, Subaru's former Outreach Scientist and representative to the Mauna Kea Astronomy Outreach Committee, initiated and implemented a Mauna Kea Coin contest that became an integral part of AstroDay activities. The goal of the contest was to encourage K-12 students to design a coin to express aloha and respect for Mauna Kea. The winning design was imprinted on a commemorative coin and the winner was acknowledged in a ceremony at center stage during AstroDay. The coins were available as gifts to AstroDay visitors after they had visited the areas of all observatories at the event. They will be distributed in the future at special outreach events.

The presentations at `Imiloa and the VIS as well as events such as AstroDay and activities like the Mauna Kea Coin Contest are a small sampling of the variety of ways that Subaru Telescope and its staff communicates about the telescope and astronomy with the local community. Public Information and Outreach staff at Subaru will continue to share in many different activities that communicate the importance of the telescope to the local community and to communicate Subaru's appreciation for its many sources of support.


Photo 3: Press Officer Dr. Suzanne Frayser explains the significance of the spectrum for astronomy to a visitor at Subaru's exhibit during AstroDay 2011.



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