Keck Observatory has a ‘Quadruple Whammy’

  • Students from Waimea Middle School, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Makua Lani Christian Academy visited Keck Observatory last Friday for the special event. They learned about solar telescopes, star tracking, mock mirrors and infrared cameras at four stations around the campus. (COURTESY PHOTO/HPA)
    Students from Waimea Middle School, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Makua Lani Christian Academy visited Keck Observatory last Friday for the special event. They learned about solar telescopes, star tracking, mock mirrors and infrared cameras at four stations around the campus. (COURTESY PHOTO/HPA)

WAIMEA — Astronomers and engineers at W. M. Keck Observatory opened their doors Friday to more than 140 students from Waimea Middle School, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Makua Lani Christian Academy.

The special event held at the company’s headquarters in Waimea featured four science-rich stations around the campus, hence its name, “Quadruple Whammy.”

The first station offered solar viewing for students through telescopes that allow them to safely view the sun to find sun spots and solar flares.

At the star tracking station, Keck employees demonstrated the software tracking system they use to find and follow stars as the Earth moves, fine-tuning images to take out the twinkle to capture clear pictures.

Segment activity involved students putting together parts of a mock mirror while learning how communication and teamwork play a big role in how Keck assembles and cares for their unique mirrors.

“Seeing all the Maunakea telescopes and coming here to see how the scientists really work is pretty cool,” WMS sixth-grader Ariana Shinaoka said. “We were trying to make sure we didn’t touch the mirrors’ surface because they cost several million dollars, so you have to polish it and everything. We’re just trying to make sure we get them in the right spot and that they don’t overlap.”

The infrared camera demonstration showed students why Keck uses infrared cameras, and how to see through dust and galaxies to find planets.

Keck’s Outreach Coordinator Shelly Pelfrey helps organize events like this several times a year.

“It’s a way that we can bring students here to our headquarters and show them what’s behind the big door,” she said. “Everybody in this town drives back and forth in front of our property almost every day and there’s really not an opportunity for them to see what’s inside, so today it’s great to bring the kids into our facility and have them do some hands-on activities with our support astronomers and engineers.”

Keck Observatory invites young minds into their headquarters office to learn directly from astronomers and engineers in a way that makes science exciting. Their hope is the students will come away imagining themselves on staff at Keck Observatory or any STEM-related field in the future.

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