The Kama‘āina Observatory Experience was introduced by President Obama at the White House Astronomy Night in October 2015. The idea is for people who live on the Big Island and elsewhere in the state, to have an opportunity to visit the telescopes and learn a bit about what they do, as well as learn about the natural history and cultural significance of Mauna Kea.
Last weekend, I got the opportunity to take part and the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) was the first telescope visited. The telescope dates back to 1979 as is seen in the massive steel arms of the telescope and some of the instrumentation in the control room – love those analog weather instruments in the top row.
The age of the telescope doesn’t mean it’s unsuitable for the modern era. CHFT is a 3.6 meter optical/infrared telescope, but while the mirror and its housing is old school, the supporting instruments are the latest in high tech. And nowadays, like most of the telescopes on the mountain, no one needs to be there overnight; they’re operated remotely.
While a good deal of the information went over my head, and out toward the stars, it was a thoroughly worthwhile experience. I’d recommend it to anyone, but you have to be kama‘āina, a Hawaii resident.