Friday, Dec. 01, 2023|
Share this story
Tribune-Herald file photo
The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is scheduled to be decommissioned.
Two Maunakea observatories are still scheduled to be removed within a year, despite snowier-than-normal conditions.
At a meeting of the Maunakea Stewardship and Authority board last week, Greg Chun, executive director of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Maunakea Stewardship, provided updates about the decommissioning of two observatories and a chemical leak that afflicted a third.
The former two facilities are the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory and UH’s Hoku Ke‘a educational telescope, which are the first of five observatories slated for decommissioning in exchange for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Chun said the Submillimeter Observatory, or CSO, already has been stripped of equipment, with only the telescope and the facility’s dome remaining.
“Once we get through the winter season, we’ll get to the actual deconstruction,” Chun said, adding that the CSO telescope should be removed by April or May, and the demolition of the building will be completed by the end of the year.
The removal of the Hoku Ke‘a facility — which currently houses no telescope — is awaiting the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ approval of a conservation district use application, which Chun said is anticipated to happen in May.
“It’s a much smaller facility, so deconstruction is less complicated,” Chun said. “So, we … project that to be completed by January (of 2024).”
Meanwhile, at UH’s 88-inch telescope — commonly called UH88 — the scope of a coolant leak that occurred in January still has not been determined, Chun said.
The observatory’s coolant system was found on Jan. 10 to have sprung a leak, discharging an unknown amount of anti-freezing agent ethylene glycol. Subsequent investigations determined that some of the chemical had drained into a pipe that deposits outside the building, leading to concerns of an outdoor chemical spill. However, the pipe also was determined to be partially blocked.
Chun said a sample of fluid taken from the pipe contained no discernible levels of ethylene glycol, which he called “a major source of relief” because it suggests that no outdoor spill occurred.
He added that the Institute for Astronomy is planning to fully flush the coolant system and restart it using another anti-freezing agent, propylene glycol, which Chun said is a safer substance. Until that plan is approved by the state Department of Health, Chun said the amount of fluid that leaked is still unknown.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *