The Endless Mantra: Innovation at the Keck Observatory

A study of historical, current, and future developments at the Keck Observatory revealed a thriving philosophy of innovation. Intended to defy obsoletion and keep the observatory competitive over long time scales, this philosophy continues to resonate with Keck Observatory scientists. The Keck Observatory consists of two 1 0-meter telescopes situated near the apex of Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii. Three main innovations keep the observatory competitive. The observatory contains the first modem active optics-controlled segmented primary mirror, principally designed by Dr. Jerry Nelson. Though it currently reigns as the world’s largest aperture at 10 meters, monolithic mirror supporters still question its viability. The observatory also links both primary mirrors together as a single 20-meter telescope using interferometry. Finally, the observatory employs both a natural and laser guide star adaptive optics system. Forward-thinking Keck scientists, however, are researching multi-conjugate adaptive optics systems. As a result of its innovations, Keck has retained its position as a major player in the realm of observational astronomy for over a decade.