After almost 29 years, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will end operations of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) in Hawaii in September, 2015. 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. In a recent press release, Caltech stated they are 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.
The CSO is a cutting-edge facility for astronomical research and instrumentation development. The CSO’s 10.4-meter radio telescope was designed and assembled in the 1980s by a team led by the late Robert Leighton, Caltech’s Valentine Professor of Physics. Under the leadership of CSO founding director Tom Phillips, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech, new instrumentation for the CSO was developed over the years by Caltech faculty, students, and staff; by staff scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which is managed by Caltech); and by collaborators at institutions around the world.
Located near the summit of Maunakea, the CSO began operation in early 1987, under the management of Caltech by agreement with the University of Hawaii. For nearly three decades, 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. Well over 100 students, from Caltech and other institutions, have used the CSO for their PhD research.
“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.”