Institute for Astronomy Home
IFA Home Page   |    Search   |    Other Editions    No. 45 - 2012 
  All Articles  


ATST Construction Begins, Spurs New Solar Physics Courses

ATST Ground-breaking

Representatives of the ATST project, the IfA, and AURA gathered with Kahu Dane Uluwehiokalani Maxwell on Haleakalā for a blessing and symbolic groundbreaking for the ATST on November 30. From left to right, ATST Co-Investigator Michael Knoelker, ATST Project Manager Joseph McMullin, ATST Telescope Building Enclosure Group Manager Mark Warner, ATST Director Thomas Rimmele, AURA President William Smith, IfA Director Günther Hasinger, Kahu Maxwell, IfA Associate Director for External Relations Mike Maberry, Charlie Fein of KC Environmental, AURA Board of Directors Chair Dan Clemens, and ATST Construction Manager Brett Simison. Photo by Laurie Allan.

On November 30, the National Solar Observatory (NSO) announced that construction of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) had started on the summit of Haleakalā. The ATST will be the world’s most powerful solar observatory—and a truly revolutionary scientific tool for understanding how variations in the Sun’s output affect Earth’s climate. Solar astronomers will use ATST to understand what causes solar eruptions and to develop “space weather” forecasting so that the potentially destructive impacts of solar flares and coronal mass ejections on satellites, the power grid, and communication systems can be avoided or lessened.

The National Science Foundation is providing construction funding. About half of this money is from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Construction of the ATST will provide employment for local construction personnel, and when completed, the observatory will offer local high-technology jobs.

IfA Director Günther Hasinger said, “The ATST will lead to tremendous advances in our understanding of the Sun, including those aspects of its variable activity that affect life on Earth.” He thanked all who “worked so hard for many years to make the ATST project a reality,” especially IfA solar astronomers Jeff Kuhn and Haosheng Lin, IfA Associate Director Bob McLaren, former IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki, IfA astronomer Paul Coleman, and IfA Assistant Director for External Relations Mike Maberry.

With the coming of the ATST to Hawai‘i and the UH partnership with the University of Colorado (CU), the New Jersey Institute for Technology (NJIT), and the NSO, solar astronomers at the IfA, led by Kuhn, are working to offer expanded course offerings in solar physics. The inaugural web-enabled course in the George Ellery Hale Collaborative Graduate Education Program in Solar & Space Physics will be “Solar and Stellar Magnetism” taught from CU by Juri Toomre. So far IfA graduate students can only audit these courses, but steps are being taken to allow them to take these courses for credit in the future.

Kuhn explains, “This graduate program is established as a component of the planned move of the headquarters of the NSO to Boulder, Colorado, as we enter the ATST era. Other courses will be taught in turn by UH and NJIT faculty, and we welcome other institutions to join in our attempts to offer a regular and frequent series of courses for graduate students considering research in solar and space physics, or related areas in astrophysics. We are planning for active participation in this inaugural course by scientists from both NSO and the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder.”

On November 9, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) issued a decision reaffirming the granting of the December 2, 2010, Conservation District Use Permit for the construction of the ATST on Haleakalā. This decision cleared the way for the beginning of construction. After the BLNR’s announcement, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood said, “The University is eager to move this $300-million project forward. The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope is important both to the scientific community and to Hawai‘i’s economy.”

ATST is a project of the National Solar Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation for the benefit of the astronomical community.