Polynesian Paradox

Tropical trade winds kissing swaying palms, fruity mai tais adorned with orchids, and azure waves rhythmically lapping against powder white sand beaches…These are all images that come to mind when one thinks of Hawai’i. Yet above the Kohala Coast shoreline just miles upward from the gentle strum of the ukulele, the W. M. Keck Observatory stands in the windy cold on the summit of Mauna Kea. It is here that groundbreaking science takes place night after night as Keck Observatory astronomers seek answers to the greatest questions about our Universe. Fueled with refined minds and a passion for discovery, their altruistic and singular goal is to increase man’s intellectual knowledge of our heavens.

Twenty years ago this March, the mighty Keck I telescope began recording its first science observations. Three years later, in 1996, the Keck II telescope joined its twin. Standing eight stories tall and weighing nearly 300 tons, the twin-telescopes are the most powerful tools on Earth to study the cosmos. With primary mirrors spanning 10 meters in diameter, each comprised of 36 hexagonal segments working together as a single piece of reflective glass, the Keck telescopes and their instrumentation offer the greatest sensitivity and image clarity available in ground-based astronomy today.

The confirmation of the most known exoplanets found orbiting nearby stars, the farthest supernova known to man, and the Nobel Prize-winning study of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, all mark pioneering discoveries uncovered by the Keck Telescopes. Although other 6-10 meter telescopes exist, none compare to their research productivity and impact. The Keck Observatory consistently ranks highest in the number of papers per telescope per year of ground-based observatories, and highest as well in the impact of these papers to research in a very competitive field.

To celebrate this astonishing legacy, the W.M. Observatory and Friends of Keck will commemorate the Keck Observatory’s 20th anniversary with Keck Week 2013 – a series of events beginning with a distinctive confluence of the brightest minds in astronomy alongside our country’s most significant scientific philanthropists. To kick-off the festivities will be a two-day feast of astronomy discourse and finely honed presentations describing Keck Observatory’s impact on astronomy by the astronomers who are making it happen. The Keck Observatory 20th Anniversary Science Meeting takes place March 14th and 15th at The Fairmont Orchid at Mauna Lani Resort.

“Astronomy! Live Tonight” on the evening of March 15th welcomes participants to mix and mingle with the world’s leading cosmic discoverers. Timothy Ferris, renowned astronomer and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way, will moderate a panel of Keck’s all-star astronomers in a spectacular outdoor setting open to Hawaii’s brilliant night skies.

On Saturday, March 16th, the Four Seasons Resort will transform its Hualalai Ballroom into a gala evening paying tribute to the Observatory’s most important supporters and raising funds for future cutting-edge telescope innovations. “Star Struck” will feature a three-course meal by the resort’s award-winning culinary team accompanied by the wines of celestial vintners, Jaffe Estates. The evening will also include an exclusive live auction of one-of-a-kind packages and followed by music and dancing with Oahu’s well-loved band, Manoa DNA.

Along with these events, guests will also enjoy an Open House at the Observatory’s Waimea headquarters replete with engaging astronomy talks, hands-on activities and displays describing Keck’s engineering and science; a fun-spirited tennis match between prominent astronomers and the Observatory’s biggest supporters; and, finally, a special showing of Carl Sagan’s “Contact” round-out the week-long festivities.

Underlying these events is the fact that the Keck Observatory – this scientific monument of our curiosity – is made possible in large part by the commitment of philanthropists, individuals who recognize that on the nature-infused island of Hawai’i thrives the closest connection between our planet and the edges of the known Universe. Keck Week is an occasion that will educate and enthrall; as they are known to say often at the W. M. Keck Observatory, “Let the Universe Inspire You.”