It looks like Kalākaua’s vision is becoming a reality …
Kalākaua’s interest in modern astronomy is evidenced by his support for an astronomical expedition to Hawaiʻi in 1874 that came from England to observe a transit of Venus (a passage of Venus in front of the Sun – used to measure an ‘astronomical unit,’ the distance between the Earth and Sun.)
The King allowed the British Royal Society’s expedition a suitable piece of open land for their viewing area; it was not far from Honolulu’s waterfront in a district called Apua (mauka of today’s Waterfront Plaza.)
Kalākaua addressed those astronomers in 1874 stating, “It will afford me unfeigned satisfaction if my kingdom can add its quota toward the successful accomplishment of the most important astronomical observation of the present century and assist …”
“… however humbly, the enlightened nations of the earth in these costly enterprises to establish the basis of astronomical distance.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 19, 1874)
Kalākaua reinforced his positive feelings toward modern astronomy – and noted the importance of scientific learning versus the financial aspect of it. On November 22, 1880, King Kalākaua wrote to Captain RS Floyd noting his interest in telescopes and astronomy:
“I must thank you sincerely for the pamphlet you sent me of the ‘Lick Observatory Trust.’ Something of this kind is needed here very much but we have so few people who take interest in scientific matters. Everybody is bent upon making money on sugar and the all might dollar.” (King Kalākaua)
In Kalākaua’s time they were measuring an astronomical unit, using now-considered rudimentary equipment; today’s cutting-edge telescopes are making discoveries about new planets, interacting galaxies and seeing stars at the edge of the observable Universe.
Astronomy looks into the distant past.
“Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to us (other than the Sun), is about 4 light-years away. This means that the light we see from it now left the star about 4 years ago.”
“(T)he light from the Sun takes about 8 minutes to reach us here on Earth, so when you look up at the Sun, you see it as it was 8 minutes ago (but don’t look at the Sun) … The speed of light is about a foot per nanosecond (billionth of a second)”. (Masters)
It wasn’t until nearly a century after Hawaiʻi’s participation in the first Transit of Venus that a high elevation observatory was constructed in Hawaiʻi – in 1964, a NASA-funded 12.5-inch telescope was installed on Puʻu Poliahu to see if Mauna Kea provide the right observation conditions.
Dr. Gerard Kuiper’s team began “seeing” studies. Kuiper concluded that “The mountaintop is probably the best site in the world – I repeat – in the world – from which to study the moon, the planets, and stars.” (Ironwood Observatory Research)
At the close of the decade Mauna Kea saw the construction of a 0.6-meter (24-inch) (1968) and 2.2-meter (88-inch) (1970) telescopes, provided to University of Hawaiʻi by the US Air Force and NASA.
Now, Hawai‘i has another opportunity … the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The Hawai‘i Supreme Court has upheld the Board of Land and Natural Resources decision to issue the Conservation District Use Permit for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).
TMT will be three times as wide, with nine times more area, than the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world. This larger telescope will deliver sharper and deeper images than existing telescopes both on the ground and in space.
These gains can only be realized if we correct the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere with special adaptive optics. Maunakea is one of the best sites in the world for using adaptive optics to sharpen images, as the atmosphere over Hawaii is calm, steady, and most often free of clouds and weather.
As a result, TMT will likely revolutionize our understanding of the universe and will help to ensure that Hawaii remains the global leader in astronomy. (TMT)
TMT will be able to study the earliest galaxies that formed, when the universe was only a small percentage of its present age; galaxies containing stars comprised of raw materials from the Big Bang.
TMT will also extend the studies of the shapes, dynamics, and chemistry of early galaxies – from 5 to 6 billion years ago and further back in time to almost 13 billion years ago, when the very first structures in the universe were forming.
TMT will also study individual stars in our local group of galaxies at a volume nearly 100 times larger than currently possible.
By resolving and studying these individual stars, we can determine how our Milky Way Galaxy and its nearest neighbors have grown, interacted, and possibly even merged (i.e. captured dwarf galaxies) over the history of the universe. (TMT)