About the Institute for Astronomy

The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) was founded at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) in 1967 to manage the Haleakalā Observatories on Maui and the Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island, and to carry out its own program of fundamental research into the stars, planets, and galaxies that make up our Universe.

Research at the IfA

The Institute for Astronomy is one of the world’s leading astronomical research centers.

Its broad-based program includes studies of the Sun, planets, and stars, as well as interstellar matter, galaxies, and cosmology. Most IfA astronomers use the giant telescopes atop Mauna Kea and Haleakalā to collect faint visible light, including infrared and submillimeter radiation, from distant objects. They also use and support space observatories, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra (an X-ray astronomy satellite), to make observations that cannot be made from the ground.

Academic programs at the IfA

The Institute has close links with the UH Mānoa Department of Physics and Astronomy through the astronomy undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The graduate program has about 40 students working for their MS and PhD degrees while another 80 students are enrolled as undergraduate Astronomy and Astrophysics majors. IfA faculty also teach many introductory astronomy courses on the Mānoa Campus.

Observatories

During the last thirty years, the state of Hawai‘i has become the most sought-after location in the world for the construction of large ground-based telescopes. The focal points for this construction are the 3,000-meter peak of Haleakalā on Maui and the 4,200-meter peak of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). The remarkable clarity, dryness, and stillness of the air above these isolated high-altitude sites led to the commissioning by the University of Hawai‘i first of the Mees Solar Observatory at Haleakalā on the island of Maui in 1963 and then of the 2.2-meter Telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai‘i in 1970.

telescopes

Five Decades of Discovery

During the last thirty years, the state of Hawai‘i has become the most sought-after location in the world for the construction of large ground-based telescopes. The focal points for this construction are the 3,000-meter peak of Haleakalā on Maui and the 4,200-meter peak of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). The remarkable clarity, dryness, and stillness of the air above these isolated high-altitude sites led to the commissioning by the University of Hawai‘i first of the Mees Solar Observatory at Haleakalā on the island of Maui in 1963 and then of the 2.2-meter Telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai‘i in 1970.

telescopes

Indigenous Hawaiian Astronomy

The early Polynesians were highly skilled sailors and navigators. Navigation was accomplished primarily, we believe, by a thorough knowledge of the stars, their rising and setting points along the horizon and their meridian passage as a function of latitude.

The Founders of Astronomy at University of Hawai’i

Here are their personal accounts of the history of astronomy in Hawai’i and early days of the IfA

Walter Steiger Professor Emeritus, University of Hawai`i

Steiger built a research program in solar physics and an observatory on Haleakalā

John T. Jefferies Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii

Jefferies expanded to include planetary, stellar and extragalactic astronomy, and oversaw the building of the first telescopes on Maunakea.

Institute for Astronomy