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Mauna Kea telescope to stay on with NASA funding

  • COURTESY MAUNA KEA VISITOR INFORMATION STATIONThis 2002 photo of a snow-covered summit on Mauna Kea shows the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope.
    COURTESY MAUNA KEA VISITOR INFORMATION STATION
    This 2002 photo of a snow-covered summit on Mauna Kea shows the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope.

HILO >> A NASA project to protect satellites in space is expected to extend the life of one of Mauna Kea’s older telescopes.

NASA would pay for research at the 35-year-old United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, or UKIRT, under an agreement still being negotiated.

The money would go through a scientific research branch of military and space contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., which would partner with the University of Arizona for the research. The telescope would belong to the University of Hawaii, which owns the lease for the land under all the telescopes at the summit of Hawaii’s tallest peak.

NASA’s interest in UKIRT involves protecting working satellites in space and studying properties of satellite material in orbit around the Earth, Richard Green, the assistant director of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

Lockheed would use the telescope to conduct research that will eventually be published, Green said.

The universities of Arizona and Hawaii are also interested in collecting data for studying asteroids that might come near the Earth and studying some of the earliest, most distant galaxies in the universe.

Green said he would become UKIRT’s director once the agreements are finalized.

The telescope has needed a new source of funding since the U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council said two years ago it would stop paying for it.

The University of Hawaii would have decommissioned the telescope if no one could be found to fund it.

But Gary Davis, the director of the Joint Astronomy Centre that runs the telescope, said it received multiple bids and selected one on the basis of the proposal.

UKIRT, which was built in the late 1970s, is the largest telescope in the northern hemisphere dedicated solely to infrared astronomy.

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