Final adjustments to Japan’s largest single mirror telescope, which sits atop 4,200-meter Mauna Kea, Hawaii, will be put off until December due to delays by an American contractor.
SUBARU, a project overseen by the National Astronomical Observatory, is part of a 40 billion yen project begun in 1991. The telescope, the lens of which is 8.3 meters in diameter, was originally scheduled to enter the final phase of instrument tests and adjustment this summer. This phase is known as “first light” because it is the first time that starlight passes through the lens.
“It’s unfortunate, but Mitsubishi Electric Corp. contracted Contraves Inc. in Pittsburgh to polish the (primary) mirror, and they’ve been having administrative problems. … They’ve changed names a few times,” said Professor Hiroshi Karoji of the National Astronomical Observatory.
The news comes as a disappointment to Japanese astronomers who had flocked to the First Light Symposium in January 1996 and who are eagerly following the telescope’s progress. However, local environmental and religious groups, which have criticized the project as a desecration of the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea and its shrine, are likely to applaud any signs of a delay.
Named after the Japanese name for the star cluster Pleiades, SUBARU marks a leap in astronomy in Japan, whose largest telescope to date has a 1.5-meter lens.
“The delay will not affect the overall schedule,” Karoji said. “Different universities have time on the telescope starting in March 2000. The start of observations is inflexible. “It just means all the adjustments will have to be made in a shorter period of time, that’s all,” he said.
SUBARU will operate in conjunction with the Hawaii Facility of the National Observatory, established in April 1997 at Science Park, University of Hawaii in Hilo as the first Japanese government research institution built outside Japan.
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