January 8, 2005

Maui Recommended for Site of Solar Scope

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) -- The summit of a Maui volcano whose Hawaiian name means "House of the Sun" has been recommended as the site for one of the world's biggest and most advanced solar telescopes.

The board of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy recommended Haleakala ahead of 70 other proposed sites around the world to be the home of the $161 million telescope that measure 4 meters in diameter.

The recommendation goes to the National Science Foundation for further review.

Under the proposal, the telescope would serve as a solar "magnetometer," capable of measuring solar magnetic fields, with the goal of predicting changes in the sun.

It could help to understand solar flares that can affect electrical power distribution, cell phones and satellites, according to the National Solar Observatory.

Haleakala was selected because of the clean air at the 10,000-foot summit.

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, said there are two to three sites at the summit that might be selected for the telescope.

The process for selecting the site requires an environmental impact statement, including a review of the telescope's impact on the environment and culture.

"I honestly believe that it will pay for itself in months to a year once it's turned on," said Jeff Kuhn, a University of Hawaii solar astronomer who helped develop the technology and prototype on which the project is based.

Charles Maxwell Sr., a Native Hawaiian cultural specialist, said those involved in the project need to be sensitive to native culture and every effort to minimize its visual impact on Haleakala should be made.

"It is of utmost importance that this project or any project on Haleakala follow the Hawaiian cultural protocol," he said.