(Media release) — Twenty-five years ago, the W. M. Keck Observatory opened the telescope dome, observing the heavens above Maunakea for the very first time and changing astronomical science forever. On Nov. 24, Keck Observatory will celebrate this landmark anniversary of first light, commemorating the extraordinary impact made over the past 25 years and expressing gratitude to their community on Hawai’i Island.
“Thanks to the pristine conditions on Maunakea and the incredible work and ongoing efforts of hundreds of Hawai’i residents, Keck Observatory has become the pride of Hawai’i, contributing more to humankind’s understanding of the Universe than any other research facility on Earth,” said Hilton Lewis, member of the original project team and director of the W. M. Keck Observatory.
W. M. Keck Observatory’s twin telescopes open the domes to begin a night of scientific observation. For high resolution photos, click here.
Before the Keck Observatory was built, the most powerful telescope in the world was the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory. Back then, technological limitations threatened the expansion of astronomy, as mirrors much larger than Palomar’s could not be made and supported at the exacting levels required for the science.
W. M. Keck Observatory’s revolutionary segmented mirror technology changed everything.
For high resolution photos, click here.
A few bold engineers envisioned a radical new approach to gathering light: tile together smaller hexagons, and control them so finely that they would act as a single, giant mirror. This technology–the foundation of Keck Observatory’s twin telescopes–changed everything for astronomy worldwide. Today, all the next revolutionary telescopes, on both ground and space, are being designed using the architecture developed and perfected by Keck Observatory.
Maunakea on Hawai’i Island was identified by the project team as the best site on earth for astronomy. It has since been measured as having the best seeing conditions on Earth. The height of the mountain, placing it above much of the atmosphere, lack of light pollution leading to clear, dark skies and dry summit air with minimal turbulence made it the only location that would allow the Keck Observatory to reach its tremendous scientific potential.
Keck Observatory could immediately make discoveries considered impossible at other observatories, and would completely change our understanding of the universe.
Throughout the past 25 years, teams of scientists using Keck Observatory have made thousands of groundbreaking discoveries, including:
Becoming the first telescope to directly image planets orbiting another star
Determining that twenty percent of Sun-like stars in our galaxy have Earth-sized planets that could host life
Proving the existence of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole
Observing the most distant (and the earliest) galaxies to be formed after the Big Bang
Discovering the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating and the subsequent revelation of a new mysterious force called Dark Energy
Perhaps the biggest discovery is how much remains unknown. “There are as many unanswered questions as ever, 25 years later. If anything, the mysteries are deeper. Each layer we pull back reveals more complexity,” Lewis said.
“Looking forward to the next 25 years, we are committed to deepening our engagement with our local community and inspiring our keiki to study science and technology,” said Rich Matsuda, operations and infrastructure senior manager for the Keck Observatory. “We are grateful for the opportunity join our community in making Hawai’i birthplace and home to some of the world’s most innovative science and technology.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of first light this Nov. 24, 2015, Keck Observatory will host Hawai’i Island school groups at their base facility in Waimea throughout the day. Students will talk with Keck Observatory’s industry-leading astronomers and engineers about the feats of science and technology that make the telescopes so special, and visit activity stations for hands-on learning.