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New Program Adds to the Visiting Opportunity of the Subaru Telescope

February 8, 2016

Special Tour at the Subaru Telescope for Hawaii Residents

Local Hawaii residents have a special opportunity to tour the Subaru Telescope on February 20, 2016, and learn more about cultural and environmental treasures of the mountain. Guests will visit the Subaru Telescope and one another observatory on Maunakea as part of an event jointly hosted by the Maunakea Astronomy Outreach Committee, the participating observatories on Maunakea, as well as the Maunakea Visitor Information Station, and the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. Transportation between the Visitor Information Station at 9,000 feet and the summit of Maunakea is provided. This special Kama‘āina Observatory Experience program will provide local residents with an opportunity to visit the summit, see world-class telescopes, and learn about the mountain in a holistic manner. For more information, please visit the event Web site at: http://kamaainaobservatoryexperience.org


Public Tours at the Subaru Telescope Resume in Spring

Public tours of the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea will resume in Spring 2016 after several months winter break. Bad weather conditions often hinder safe access to the mountain during the winter months, and tours are not offered (Figure 1).


Figure 1

Figure 1: Example of the weather forecast copied from the Maunakea Weather Center's website. Even when the sky is clear, the strong wind can create very hazardous condition for the access to the summit area of Maunakea. The access road was closed during such a period. (Credit: MKWC)



Video: During the winter season, the top of Maunakea may receive thick layer of snow. The first task of the Mauna Kea Support Services is to secure safe access to the summit area. This work is very important not only for the workers at the telescope but also for all the people who come to the mountain. (Credit: NAOJ)


Subaru Telescope's public tour program first began in October 2004, and resulted in 4,000 scheduled tour slots conducted by staff members. About 10,000 people have visited the Subaru Telescope through this program.


The Public Tour Procedure

Up to three tours a day is scheduled, and one does not need to be from any particular astronomy institution to participate. Subaru Telescope has separate tour arrangements for groups from astronomy research institutions or educational facilities. Due to the effects of high altitude on children, teenagers and others, Subaru Telescope limits visits by people under the age of 16, people who are pregnant, people who have respiratory or cardiac conditions, or those who have been diving less than 24 hours before the visit.

People interested in visiting the telescope who can arrange their own transportation may sign up for a visit through Subaru Telescope's on-line calendar at: http://subarutelescope.org/Information/Tour/Summit/index.html

Two-thirds of the time slots are offered in Japanese, since the number of Japanese guests who have traveled this far to see how their national resources are spent make up more than half of the visitors. All other tours are offered in English and are available to visitors from around the world.

To aid in planning a tour, visitors are reminded that there will be two substantial break periods during 2016 when tours will not be offered. These are during times when the primary mirror is being recoated (August-September) and during the winter weather period.

Visitors are reminded that during the tour, they will be experiencing very high altitude and very thin atmosphere (the amount of oxygen is only about 2/3 of that at sea level). For these reasons, Subaru Telescope tour guides advise people to move slowly during the tour and allow their lungs to get as much oxygen as possible.


What Brings People to Maunakea and Subaru Telescope?

Visitors come to Maunakea for many reasons. The height of this volcanic peak is a big draw. Measuring from the ocean floor where it started to form, Maunakea is the tallest mountain on Earth. Others want to visit the place where so much advanced astronomy is done (Figure 2). Others want to experience the rare environment the mountain offers.


Figure 2

Figure 2: Visitors can see the telescope up close from the viewing deck. (Credit: NAOJ)


Some of the responses we receive from the tour guests reflect the new things they learn while on the mountain. For some, the massive structure of the telescope is very impressive, and people are often surprised that the temperature of the inside of the building is kept low to match the environment outdoors (Figure 3). Combined with a tour of one of the world’s most advanced observatories and a chance to learn more about the unique environment of the mountain, Subaru Telescope staff hopes that visitors will come away with unique stories to share with friends.


Figure 3

Figure 3: In a very rare occasion, the visitors can look at the primary mirror while it is being servied. (Credit: NAOJ)



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