During suspension of telescope operations, Maunakea Observatories group launches virtual outreach program

In response to recent stay-at-home orders, observatories are now limiting scientific operations on Maunakea and at base facilities, but ramping up virtual outreach to community.

By Susan Enright

Above is the second video of a series aimed to engage, entertain, and educate keiki about astronomy and other science topics. The series is being produced by Maunakea Observatories in response to the recent stay-at-home-order issued by the Office of the Governor.  

Maunakea Observatories, a collaboration of nonprofit independent institutions with telescopes located on Maunakea on the island of Hawai‘i, has launched a public outreach effort for K-12 students and families, providing remote learning resources from the observatories’ expert scientists, staff, and educators.

Currently, there is a temporary suspension of telescope operations on Maunakea following Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order issued March 23, 2020, aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.  But while scientific observations are on hold, Maunakea Observatories and outreach specialists are developing videos and other learning tools to continue with community outreach and educational activities.

Doug Simons
Doug Simons

“The health and safety of our staff and community will always be our highest priority,” says Doug Simons, director of Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope. “As one of Hawai‘i Islands’ largest employers, we understand the necessity of doing whatever we can to stunt the spread of COVID-19. That’s why our teams are staying home.”

Stay-at-home order

The employees of the observatories—more than 500 technicians, astronomers, instrument scientists, engineers and support staff—are now staying home, focused on work that can be advanced without in-person engagement at the summit or base facilities.

In compliance with the governor’s order, any interaction at the facilities are now limited to emergency response and essential functions, provided that social distancing requirements are maintained. Examples of emergency response could include response to fire alarms or power outages, or critical maintenance on the observatories’ delicate instruments to prevent damage and minimize loss of future research.

Ramping up online outreach

Recognizing the current need to convert in-person learning to a virtual environment, the Maunakea Observatories education and outreach teams have launched new pilot initiatives three times a week, designed to provide multimedia science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities to students and families for the duration of the stay-at-home order and beyond.

Available resources include videos, live virtual engagement, downloadable materials and more. These resources are available through the Maunakea Observatories website, their Facebook page, and the newly created Maunakea Astronomy Outreach Committee’s YouTube channel.

Maunakea Observatories

The Maunakea Observatories organization is a collaboration of independent institutions with telescopes located on Maunakea on Hawai‘i Island. Together, the observatories make Maunakea the most scientifically productive site for astronomy world-wide. The Maunakea Observatories include: Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, Gemini International Observatory, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (EAO), NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Subaru Telescope, Submillimeter Array, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, University of Hawai‘i Hilo Educational Telescope, University of Hawai‘i 2.2 Meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array, and W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II).

The management of the Maunakea Science Reserve, where the telescopes are located, is the responsibility of the Office of Maunakea Management, which reports directly to the Office of the Chancellor at UH Hilo. The mission of the Office of Maunakea Management is to provide and oversee the management and stewardship of Mauna Kea Science Reserve through community involvement.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.


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