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The Search for Near-Earth Objects from Hawai‘i

by Imiloa Astronomy Center on March 30th, 2018

‘Imiloa presents Dr. Richard Wainscoat, Astronomer at University of Hawai’i, Mānoa
Date: Fri. April 20
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Cost: $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply)

The Earth is continuously being hit with asteroids and comets that crash down from outer space. The impact of a 20-meter diameter asteroid near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 provided a graphic example of a “small” asteroid impact. Large object impact is rare, but has catastrophic consequences. Learn about Near-Earth Objects (NEO’s) and the potentially disastrous outcomes that occur once they reach Earth at ‘Imiloa’s Maunakea Skies talk with Dr. Richard Wainscoat, Astronomer at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, on Friday, April 20 at 7:00 pm.


Astronomers across the world are conducting searches for potentially hazardous objects that may hit Earth in the future. Much of the work is presently being conducted by astronomers in the United States, with Hawai‘i taking a leading role. Telescopes on three mountains in the state of Hawai‘i—Maunakea, Haleakalā and Maunaloa—are contributing significantly in the efforts to identify objects that may hit Earth within the next 100 years.


A major objective in this search is to identify large objects that could hit Earth so that  efforts that can be made to deflect these objects by changing their orbit.  Efforts are also being made to identify smaller objects immediately before they make impact, so that proper warning can be issued and appropriate steps can be taken to save lives. The telescopes being utilized in Hawai‘i for this project include Pan-STARRS1 and 2, and ATLAS on Haleakalā; Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and Subaru Telescope on Maunakea; and ATLAS on Maunaloa. This project is being funded by the NASA Near-Earth Object Observations Program.

Dr. Wainscoat will discuss the recent discoveries from the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Haleakalā, including the “Halloween Asteroid,” which passed close to Earth on October 31, 2015, and `Oumuamua the first interstellar object which was discovered in October, 2017. The Hawaiian name `Oumuamua reflects the way this object is like a scout or messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us (‘ou means “reach out for” and mua, with the second mua placing emphasis, means “first, in advance of”). Dr. Wainscoat will share insight into these important astronomical discoveries made in Hawai‘i.

‘Oumuamua (artist’s impression) Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Dr. Wainscoat grew up in Australia, obtaining his PhD in Astronomy from the Australian National University. After working in California at the NASA Ames Research Center for 3 years, he moved to Hawai‘i. He now leads the search for Near-Earth Objects with the Pan-STARRS telescopes at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa. He recognizes that dark skies are essential for astronomy, and has worked hard to preserve the dark night sky over Hawai‘i’s observatories.

Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for ‘Imiloa members (member level discounts apply). Pre-purchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 808-932-8901.


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