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Faulkes Telescope: Bringing the Universe to Class

The enclosure for the Faulkes Telescope as it will look on Haleakala next year.

This fall the Universe came three giant steps closer to the classrooms of Hawaii's schools and universities. On September 7, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents approved the Operating and Site Development Agreement for the Faulkes Telescope Project and the lease for the telescope site on Haleakala, Maui. One week later, the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the Institute for Astronomy's Conservation District Use Application for the project. With the achievement of these two milestones, the site was blessed on November 2, and construction began in early December. The Faulkes Telescope will be the largest telescope in the world dedicated to education and public outreach.

The IfA and the Faulkes Telescope Corporation (FTC) are collaborating to build and operate the two-meter (eighty-inch) telescope. The telescope's construction will be financed by the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust of the United Kingdom (UK) and will be named in honor of Dr. Martin "Dill" Faulkes, the founder of the trust. Telescope Technologies Ltd. in the UK is building the telescope. Plans call for it to be operational in 2002.

The Faulkes Telescope Project's mission is to use young people's interest in astronomy to teach them what science is. It will offer students in the UK and Hawaii hands-on research experience. Students will conduct research projects under the mentoring of their teachers and professional astronomers. In Hawaii, access to the telescope will be available to public and private schools and to the science programs of the University of Hawaii system and other local colleges.

The ceremonial blessing and groundbreaking for the Faulkes Telescope took place at Haleakala's Science City.

The Faulkes Telescope will be operated remotely from control centers in the UK and on Maui. No on-the-mountain operator will be needed. The telescope's control system will determine if the weather is good enough to observe, point the telescope, take the images requested, and then move to the next observation. By directing the telescope's operations remotely over the Internet, students will be able to access observing data in "real time" from their classrooms or to request "robotic" observations much as professional astronomers do with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers in Hawaii and the UK plan to engage students in actual research projects that will be published in the scientific literature. Students in Hawaii will be able to collaborate over the Internet with their UK counterparts halfway around the world. Educational materials developed to meet the needs of schools and colleges in one user community will be shared with the other. In addition to its direct educational mission, the Faulkes Telescope will provide observations to such users as the Bishop Museum and amateur astronomy groups.