Hawaii's Telescopes Brace for Hurricane Iselle Impact
Andrew Cooper/W. M. Keck Observatory
March 13, 2013, marks 20 years since the W. M. Keck Observatory began taking observations of the cosmos. Located in arguably one of the most extreme and beautiful places on the planet -- atop Mauna Kea, Hawai'i, 13,803 ft (4,207 m) above sea level -- the twin Keck domes have observed everything from asteroids, planets, exoplanets to dying stars, distant galaxies and nebulae. Seen in this photograph, the Keck I and Keck II telescopes dazzle the skies with their adaptive optics lasers -- a system that helps cancel out the turbulence of the Earth's atmosphere, bringing science some of the clearest views attainable by a ground-based observatory.
To celebrate the last two decades of incredible science, Discovery News has assembled some of the most impressive imagery to come from Keck.
William Merline, SWRI / W.M. Keck Observatory
Starting very close to home, the Keck II captured this infrared image of asteroid 2005 YU55 as it flew past Earth on Nov. 8, 2011.
Larry Sromovsky (University of Wisconsin)
Deeper into the solar system, the Keck NIRC2 near-infrared camera captured this beautiful observation of the oddball Uranus on July 11-12, 2004. The planet's north pole is at 4 o'clock.
W.M Keck Observatory/NASA/JPL-G.Orton
This is a mosaic false-color image of thermal heat emission from Saturn and its rings on Feb. 4, 2004, captured by the Keck I telescope at 17.65 micron wavelengths.
Antonin Bouchez (W. M. Keck Observatory)
A nice image of Saturn with Keck I telescope with the near infrared camera (NIRC) on Nov. 6, 1998. This is a composite of images taken in Z and J bands (1.05 and 1.3 microns), with the color scaling adjusted so it looks like Saturn is supposed to look to the naked eye.
Antonin Bouchez, W.M. Keck Observatory
This is Saturn's giant moon Titan -- a composite of three infrared bands captured by the Near Infrared Camera-2 on the 10-meter Keck II telescope. It was taken by astronomer Antonin Bouchez on June 7, 2011.
W. M. Keck Observatory/SRI/New Mexico State University
Another multicolored look at Titan -- a near-infrared color composite image taken with the Keck II adaptive optics system. Titan's surface appears red, while haze layers at progressively higher altitudes in the atmosphere appear green and blue.
Mike Brown, Caltech / W.M. Keck Observatory
This image of Neptune and its largest Tritan was captured by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown in September 2011. It shows the wind-whipped clouds, thought to exceed 1,200 miles per hour along the equator.
A color composite image of Jupiter in the near infrared and its moon Io. The callout at right shows a closeup of the two red spots through a filter which looks deep in the cloud layer to see thermal radiation.
Christian Marois, NRC and Bruce Macintosh, LLNL/W. M. Keck Observatory
HR 8799: Three exoplanets orbiting a young star 140 light years away are captured using Keck Observatory's near-infrared adaptive optics. This was the first direct observation by a ground-based observatory of worlds orbiting another star (2008).
Bob Goodrich, Mike Bolte, and the ESI team
Now to the extremes -- an image of Stephan's Quintet, a small compact group of galaxies.
W.M. Keck Observatory
The Egg Nebula: This Protoplanetary nebula is reflecting light from a dying star that is shedding its outer layers in the final stages of its life.
W. M. Keck Observatory
This is WR 104, a dying star. Known as a Wolf Rayet star, this massive stellar object will end its life in the most dramatic way -- possibly as a gamma-ray burst. The spiral is caused by gases blasting from the star as it orbits with another massive star.
W. M. Keck Observatory/UCLA
Narrow-field image of the center of the Milky Way. The arrow marks the location of radio source Sge A*, a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
Dr. Mark Morris (UCLA) Keck II, Mirlen instrument
A high resolution mid-infrared picture taken of the center of our Milky Way reveals details about dust swirling into the black hole that dominates the region.
Mansi Kasliwal, Caltech and Iair Arcavi, Weizmann Institute of Science/W. M. Keck Observatory
A false-color image of a spiral galaxy in the constellation Camelopardalis.
A scintillating square-shaped nebula nestled in the vast sea of stars. Combining infrared data from the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory and the Keck II telescope, researchers characterized the remarkably symmetrical “Red Square” nebula.
ESA, NASA, J.-P. Kneib (Caltech/Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees) and R. Ellis (Caltech)/W. M. Keck Observatory
Galaxy cluster Abell 2218 is acting as a powerful lens, magnifying all galaxies lying behind the cluster's core. The lensed galaxies are all stretched along the shear direction, and some of them are multiply imaged.
UC Berkeley/NASA/W. M. Keck Observatory
The central starburst region of the dwarf galaxy IC 10. In this composite color image, near infrared images obtained with the Keck II telescope have been combined with visible-light images taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Tonight, the state of Hawaii is facing the first hurricane to make landfall in 22 years. But Hurricane Iselle is only the first of a two that is cause for concern — Hurricane Julio is following only a few days behind. To add to the drama, a magnitude-4.5 earthquake rattled Hawaii, the Big Island, at 6:24 a.m. Thursday morning local time.
As the Big Island prepares to bear the brunt of Iselle, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center has predicted that the first hurricane will hit the island as a category 1 hurricane. As Iselle approaches, “wind damage and heavy surf are likely, but heavy rainfall, flash floods, and landslides were the greatest concern,” according to a NASA Earth Observatory news release.
Of course, Hawaii’s 13,803 ft (4,207 meter) high dormant volcano of Mauna Kea is home to 12 of the world’s most powerful optical and infrared telescopes, including the twin W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes, Gemini North Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. What are they doing in preparation for the stormy weather ahead?
In an internal email shared with Discovery News by the W. M. Keck Observatory, interim director Hilton Lewis urged all non-essential staff to stay at home through the hurricane and, in light of the CPHC warning, the facility was “treating this information with utmost seriousness.” Emergency personnel and essential staff such as a skeleton crew working on the summit and at the Keck headquarters (located in Kamuela, below Mauna Kea) will be monitoring the situation on Aug. 8 and 9, however. Naturally, any planned observations for Thursday night have been canceled.
In light of the early morning temblor on Thursday, Keck’s Operations and Infrastructure Senior Manager Rich Matsuda said: “I was in the office and felt it — it was more of a rolling type and I didn’t feel any notably severe jolts. We will do a general walkaround of HQ, but I suspect it should be ok.” Matsuda added that the skeleton crew at the summit would inspect the observatory’s domes, but no problems were anticipated.
In wake of the quake, no damage was reported at the Gemini North telescope either. “No ill effects from the quake that we know of,” Andy Adamson, Gemini’s Associate Director Operations, said in an email to Discovery News. “It wasn’t large on the scale of things.”
Hawaii is no stranger to earthquakes and a magnitude-4.5 tremor is more than manageable.
Like Keck, Gemini will be closed through the night and kept in a safe state while Iselle passes over Hawaii and the Gemini North headquarters based in Hilo (on the East coast of the island) will be closed through Friday. “The storm is still category 1 and still looks like a direct hit on Hilo,” said Adamson. “I think a power outage on the summit is a possibility.”
Adamson pointed out that even after the storm, “there is a chance of fog and the winds are likely to be high,” therefore any observations would likely be curtailed.
As Hurricane Julio approaches, the Gemini team are expecting further inclement weather and although they wont be expecting to be observing in the run-up to Julio, “we’re not calling the telescope formally closed yet,” he added.
Assistant astronomer Roy Gal, of the University of Hawaii, told Discovery News that the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) was shut down last night when observing conditions got bad and that the facility would remain completely shutdown until Monday morning. As for any earthquake damage to the IRTF, “there was no impact.”
“Most if not all of the observatories (on the summit) are shut down for tonight at least,” said Gal.
Coincidentally, the W. M. Keck Observatory released news this morning (just before the facility closed down) about huge storms brewing on Uranus, the distant ice giant, which goes to show hurricanes aren’t only a terrestrial phenomenon.
Special thanks to Debbie Goodwin, Director of Advancement at the W. M. Keck Observatory.