Director Lewis Shares Vision for Keck Observatory

WAIMEA, HI – As those of you lucky enough to have joined us last Thursday underneath the Hawaiian stars and by the surf of Kauna’oa know, we wrapped up our 10 th season of the Evenings with Astronomers talk series. Through the generous support of Rob and Terry Ryan since 2006, the W. M. Keck Observatory each year hosts a handful of leading scientists and engineers in the field of astronomy to share the latest breakthroughs with a very interested audience.

In this year’s  series, we saw talks from Marc Kassis, Günther Hasinger, and Jean Brodie. The new Director of Keck Observatory, Hilton Lewis, concluded the 2015 season with an inspiring talk; Voyage of Discovery: New Horizons for the W. M. Keck Observatory. In it he honors humanity’s connection with astronomy, outlines the observatory’s mission, shares his vision for the future of the Keck Observatory telescopes, and reveals how Keck Observatory will continue to lead the way in ground-based observations in the decades to come.

“Astronomy is an ancient science, in fact, the first science,” he said. “And yet for thousands of years, there were no tools to study the heavens, other than our eyes, the most basic measurement devices and our reason.” What changed all of that was the telescope; Galileo’s telescope. Since that time, many telescopes have been developed but it was the invention of Keck Observatory that forever changed the future of ground-based observation.

“The fundamental breakthrough idea of Keck was constructing the largest primary mirror ever using hexagonal tiles, rather than a monolithic piece of glass,” Lewis said. “The beauty of the segmented approach is that it is scalable – essentially, you can build a mirror as large as you like. This approach underlies all the next generation of extremely large telescopes.”

He closed by giving his vision for the W. M. Keck Observatory. He envisions building “an environment where the best, most creative people want to be, working together to build and run the most advanced and productive observing machine anywhere: Providing the highest level of support to our astronomers, so that they are free to do the most demanding science, to revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos; and providing a long term foundation, financially, intellectually and as members of this wonderful community, for the continued excellence of the Keck Observatory to shine for the next 50 years.

“When I think of Keck, I think that this is the Sistine Chapel of Astronomy,” Lewis said. “I believe we can make possible discoveries that will bring us closer to understanding the universe we live in. So that we can answer the big questions: Where do we come from? What is our destiny? Are we alone?”

“What is it about Keck’s people that is unique and that enables the extraordinary science? They are motivated by science and the voyage of discovery. Keck is always among the first to send staff up the mountain after bad weather, and we are among the last to leave. This is what characterizes our operations staff: personally committed, dedicated, taking that carefully calculated risk, always willing to go the extra mile. It’s what it takes to be the best.” – Hilton Lewis

The series appropriately concluded with its sole sponsors, Rob and Terry Ryan.

“We need every one of you to keep giving to Keck Observatory and to give as much as you can,” Terry Ryan said. “If you are not Friend of Keck, we look forward to you becoming one. Together we will keep reaching for the stars and for all the knowledge that is there for us.”

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