The search for near-Earth objects: UH astronomer to discuss asteroids, comets during presentation at ‘Imiloa

  • Courtesy photo

    University of Hawaii-Manoa astronomer Richard Wainscoat will be the guest speaker during the next Maunakea Skies talk at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

  • ‘Oumuamua, an interstellar object discovered in October 2017.

    Courtesy photo

The Earth is continuously being hit with asteroids and comets that crash down from outer space. The impact of a 20-meter diameter asteroid near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 provided a graphic example of a “small” asteroid impact. Large object impact is rare, but has catastrophic consequences.

Learn about near-Earth objects, or NEOs, and the potentially disastrous outcomes that occur once they reach Earth during the next Maunakea Skies talk with University of Hawaii-Manoa astronomer Richard Wainscoat at 7 p.m. April 20 at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.


Astronomers around the world are conducting searches for potentially hazardous objects that might hit Earth in the future. Much of the work is conducted by astronomers in the United States, with Hawaii taking a leading role. Telescopes on three mountains — Maunakea, Haleakala and Mauna Loa — are contributing significantly in the efforts to identify objects that might hit Earth within the next 100 years.

A major objective in this search is to identify large objects that could hit Earth so that efforts can be made to deflect these objects by changing their orbit. Efforts also are being made to identify smaller objects immediately before they make impact, so that proper warning can be issued and appropriate steps can be taken to save lives.

Wainscoat will discuss the recent discoveries from the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Haleakala, including the “Halloween asteroid,” which passed close to Earth on Oct. 31, 2015, and ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object which was discovered in October 2017.

Wainscoat grew up in Australia, obtaining his Ph.D. in astronomy from the Australian National University. He worked in California at the NASA Ames Research Center before moving to Hawaii, where he now leads the search for NEOs with the Pan-STARRS telescopes at the UH-Manoa. He recognizes that dark skies are essential for astronomy and has worked hard to preserve the dark night sky over Hawaii’s observatories.

Hosted by planetarium technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawaii, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year.


Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are the third Friday of each month. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for ‘Imiloa members (member-level discounts apply). Prepurchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 932-8901.

‘Imiloa is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place at the UH-Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, visit