Mauna Kea Observatory at “End of Its Useful Life” to be Shut Early by Caltech

One observatory atop Mauna Kea will shut down ahead of schedule, falling short of 30 years exploring the skies.

The California Institute of Technology announced it will close the facility in September that was initially slated for closure next year, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Saturday.

The telescope had a successful history and has been part of many discoveries, including some related to the formation of stars, said Simon Radford, technical operations manager for Caltech Submillimeter Observatory.

"We are of course sad that it's coming to an end," Radford said. "But you know, all things come to an end."

The announcement came three days after Gov. David Ige said he would like to see better stewardship on the Hawaii mountain, including the decommissioning of at least three of the 13 telescopes before the Thirty Meter Telescope is constructed.

Caltech plans to return the site to its natural state by 2018.

"While this telescope has contributed to ground-breaking scientific research, it has reached the end of its useful life," Ige said in a statement to the Tribune-Herald. "I appreciate Caltech's commitment to dismantling this telescope quickly and restoring the site in a culturally and environmentally respectful manner."

Astronomers from around the world have used the observatory 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.

When the observatory was built, the field of submillimeter astronomy was hardly explored, Radford said. Over the past three decades, the observatory helped pave the way for additional facilities, including the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, he said.

The National Science Foundation funded the observatory from its construction in 1984 to the end of 2012.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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