David Lassner & Pui Hin Rhoads: Putting the Universe Online

In the 1980s and 1990s, as the Maunakea Observatories advanced our understanding of the Universe, a revolution was taking place in the world of sensing and communications.

In the early days, astronomers traveled to the summit and carried their data back to Honolulu or their home institutions in the form of notebooks, strip charts, punch cards, and photographic plates. The development of digital devices like CCD cameras changed the nature of the data collected by the observatories. And the complementary development of Internet-based communications networks connecting the summit headquarters’ facilities, Honolulu, and the world enabled a whole new way of observing.

The collaborative development of the Maunakea Communications Network on the mountain and a variety of projects by the University of Hawai‘i have resulted in network upgrades from just 1.5 Megabits per second in 1992 to 10 Gigabits per second today with the infrastructure prepared for the next upgrade to 100 Gigabits per second as usage grows. The Maunakea Observatories are fully connected to the global research and education network fabric, enabling scientists from anywhere in the world to access data remotely. This has also made it possible for astronomers to observe remotely, using the Internet to control their instruments and preview their data while seated comfortably in their sea-level offices around the world.

“As we were making Maunakea the best-connected site for modern astronomy in the world, we were also reducing traffic and impact on the mountain. And many of our projects integrated the entire state, so that today our public schools, public libraries, community colleges, and universities are connected as well as anywhere in the world.” —  David Lassner and Pui-Hin Rhoads