Today, the world's largest instrument for studying the sun and its complex magnetic field, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) is one step closer to reality, and to a location on Haleakala, Maui. The ATST is an international project led by the U.S. National Solar Observatory (NSO), which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), a consortium of 36 universities. Today, the AURA Board of Directors endorsed the recommendation of its ATST Science Working Group to make Haleakala the primary candidate site for the ATST. The announcement caps a three-year effort that began with 70 potential sites, both national and international, being considered, and ended with Haleakala emerging as the one that best fulfills the ATST science requirements.
The $161 million ATST has been described as the world's greatest advance in ground-based solar telescope capabilities since Galileo. ATST can also be described as a solar "magnetometer." Its unique design is optimized to allow precise measurements of solar magnetic fields, particularly under circumstances where they have been, thus far, invisible. This new capability should allow us to understand and predict solar variability.
Few astrophysical research disciplines are directly relevant to life on Earth, but understanding and predicting the magnetic fluctuations of the sun is one that is. This variability touches Earth in several ways, principally through the sun's changing brightness, which affects the terrestrial climate both on the very long timescales that correspond with the rise and fall of civilizations and in periods as short as a few years. Furthermore, much Earth-bound technology, from electrical power distribution to cell phone communication, is directly affected by the intense solar magnetic storms that scientists call flares and coronal mass ejections. Dr. Jeff Kuhn, solar astronomer and Institute for Astronomy associate director for Haleakala stated, "With the ATST, we will finally have a tool that can measure the magnetism that we believe controls solar fluctuations."
Dr. Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, expressed his excitement about the site selection by saying, "The ATST is an outstanding scientific project. It will provide deep insight into the role that the sun plays in our lives. I am extremely happy that we are now able to attract this project to Hawaii." He announced that "the ATST project is moving to undertake a joint State/Federal Environmental Impact Statement for a site on Haleakala." He noted that the ATST project is identified as a potential new facility in the University of Hawaii, Institute for Astronomy's Haleakala Observatory Long Range Development Plan.
University of Hawaii President Dr. David McClain commended the Institute for Astronomy for its successful work and called the recommendation "a significant step forward in the advancement of the University's research program. It also shows the importance of the University for the development of technology programs with broader educational and economic impact on all Hawaiian islands."
Dr. Peter Englert, chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was extremely pleased about the site decision. He said, "This is a beautiful example of the growing success of UH Manoa as a research campus. We look forward to working together with the National Solar Observatory for the advancement of science, the improvement of our academic program and the benefit of the people of Hawaii."
According to Dr. Stephen Keil, NSO director and principal investigator for the ATST, "The ATST site selection and the ATST design represent the work of a large segment of the U.S. and international solar communities. The major goals of observing and understanding magnetic fields at their fundamental spatial and temporal scales at all heights in the solar atmosphere are best fulfilled on Haleakala. At 4 meters in diameter, the ATST will be the world's largest and most capable solar telescope."
When asked about the possibility of having the ATST on Haleakala, Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. stated, "In ancient times the Kahuna po`o (high priests) knew the value of Haleakala as a place to view the planets and the stars, and as a place for meditation and receiving spiritual wisdom. Haleakala is a sacred place and must be treated with respect. It is of utmost importance that this project, or any project on Haleakala, follow the Hawaiian Cultural Protocol set forth for Kolekole Pu`u (top of Haleakala) in the IfA's Long Range Development Plan; the Kanaka Maoli must be consulted in the earliest phases of any proposed project, those who work at Kolekole must attend "Sense of Place" training, there must be Cultural Monitoring during all phases, before, during and after construction, and every effort must be taken to minimize the visual impact of anything on Haleakala. Haleakala is a place of prayer; it is Ala hea ka la - the path to the calling the sun."
ATST is a project of the solar physics research community, led by the NSO, AURA (NSO's parent organization), and supported by the National Science Foundation.
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