MAUNA KEA, Hawaii – Following the announcement of Governor David Ige’s wish to see at least one Mauna Kea telescope decommission this year, the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory – or CSO – says they are moving forward with their pre-existing plan to end operations.
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) first declared its decommissioning plan for CSO in April 2009. The original plan was to begin dismantling the observatory in 2016, “with the return of the site to its natural state by 2018.”
On May 28, 2015 Caltech announced the process would begin earlier, in the fall of 2015.
After almost 29 years, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will end operations of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) in Hawaii in September, 2015. As previously announced, Caltech will begin the planning for the dismantling of the observatory. This process will be planned in close coordination with the Office of Mauna Kea Management, University of Hawaii at Hilo, to ensure that it is undertaken promptly and in a culturally and environmentally respectful manner. Caltech is sincerely grateful to the people of Hawaii Island for the use of Maunakea for nearly three decades, enabling superb research from this excellent astronomical site for the betterment of humanity. Caltech commits to the dismantling of the telescope and site restoration according to the Decommissioning Plan approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.California Institute of Technology
The CSO was a cutting-edge facility for astronomical research and instrumentation development. Its 10.4-meter radio telescope – designed and assembled in the 1980’s – allowed astronomers to “pursue research and to accomplish groundbreaking achievements in submillimeter and millimeter astronomy—the study of light emitted by atoms, molecules, and dust grains in the interstellar space where stars and planets form.”
In 2009, Caltech said the decommissioning of the CSO was due to the construction of the next generation of radio telescope, the Cornell Caltech Atacama Telescope (CCAT), to be located in Chile. Since that time, according to the CCAT website, funding from the National Science Foundation did not materialize, and Caltech announced it was withdrawing from the CCAT Partnership. Meanwhile, The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) out of northern Chile’s Atacama desert is making CSO look “decidedly obsolete”, noted respected astronomy blogger Andrew Cooper.
Astronomers sang the praises of the outgoing CSO in the May 28 media release.
“The CSO has played a central role in the development of the science and instrumentation of submillimeter and millimeter astronomy over the last three decades,” says Sunil Golwala, current director of the CSO and a professor of physics at Caltech. “The CSO legacy of combining training in instrumentation development, hands-on observing, and science will live on via its former students and researchers as well as in new projects for which it has laid the foundation.”
“This has been a most exciting time in which the field of submillimeter astronomy has been developed, leading to an understanding of astrochemistry, star formation, and distant, dust-obscured galaxies,” says Phillips, now the CSO’s director emeritus. “We thank the National Science Foundation, which funded the CSO continuously from construction in 1984 to the end of 2012.”
“The CSO has been foundational in creating the thriving discipline of submillimeter astronomy,” says Tom Soifer (BS ’68), Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of Caltech’s Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. “It is with a deep sense of gratitude to the people of Hawaii that we thank them for hosting this magnificent facility for all this time.”
Governor Ige did not mention the CSO in his call for a decommissioning, but it is most likely that this was the candidate the state had in mind. The decommissioning push comes as the state tries to ease tensions surrounding the planned Thirty Meter Telescope construction on the northern plateau of the summit area of Mauna Kea. Opponents of TMT – who stand against the $1.4 billion project for many reasons – have parodied the TMT acronym as Too Many Telescopes. TMT will be the 14th and largest telescope on the mountain, although with this latest news it may instead be the 13th by the time its built. The governor also stated he wants to see at least 25% of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation.