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(BIVN) – A new instrument destined for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope atop Mauna Kea sits in Hilo, as the standoff over the planned Thirty Meter Telescope is now in its fourth week.

The East Asian Observatory says its Namakanui instrument “will allow astronomers to seek out the coldest gas and dust in the universe opening a new window into the universe from Maunakea,” once technicians can install it in the JCMT located at the summit.

Namakanui, meaning big-eyed fish, was named by renowned Hawaiian language expert Dr. Larry Kimura. The instrument arrived in Hilo three weeks ago and was supposed to be immediately delivered to JCMT. But the conflict over Mauna Kea – and the resulting blockade of the Mauna Kea Access Road – prompted the East Asian Observatory to rethink the installation.

Instead, the staff at EAO and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics “cooled the instrument down in the EAO labs, to start testing and learning about the instrument,” during which time the above video news release was recorded.

The East Asian Observatory said:

The instrument is comprised of three cameras, each studying the universe at a different wavelength or color of light. The three detectors all have their own species names, U’u (1.2mm detector), Aweoweo (0.8mm) and Ala’ihi (3.5mm). Dr. Kimura visited the East Asian Observatories’ base facility in Hilo to see the instrument in person for the first time upon its arrival.

“We love the names Dr. Kimura choose — how they describe the species of fish in Hawaiian waters that come out in the darkness of night to hunt with their large sensitive eyes, “ says Dr. Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory. “Namakanui will peer into the darkest and coldest regions of space to help astronomers hunt for objects we currently are unable to see.”

When operational, the instrument will be cooled to just a few degrees above absolute zero, in order to be sensitive to the faint radiation emitted from cold, star forming gases such as carbon monoxide, and other complex molecules which coalesce in our galaxy and beyond.

The EAO team plans to use Namakanui next year for the next experiment with the Event Horizon Telescope as the world-wide collection of telescopes hunt for the next image of a black hole. EAO and its neighbor on the summit of Maunakea the Submillimeter Array participated in the last Event Horizon Telescope experiment, which lead to the the immense achievement of imaging P?wehi, the black hole at the center of the massive M87 galaxy, announced earlier this year.

In the next hunt, Namakanui’s detectors will bring 4 times more sensitive measurements to the experiment, giving us an even greater chance of imaging these mysterious monsters at the centers of our galaxy and beyond.

There has been some dispute over the access the observatories now have to the mountain. But in its media release, the East Asian Observatory makes it clear: “Namakanui is too sensitive to travel via to the summit until access is possible by the main Maunakea Access Road,” the EAO stated. “The challenge will remain in getting the instrument installed and commissioned in time for the Event Horizon Telescope tests later this year and early next year.”


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