Subaru 8-meter telescope damaged by leaking coolant

July 6, 2011 By Nancy Atkinson
Orange-colored coolant covers the mirror surface of the Subaru Telescope. Credit: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

A "serious hardware incident" has shut down the Subaru Telescope indefinitely. A leak allowed orange-colored coolant to spill over the primary mirror and into the main camera, as well as into other instruments and the structure of the telescope. The damage is still be assessed. During the clean-up and recovery of equipment, nighttime observations have been suspended, as well as daytime summit tours of the telescope.

An announcement posted on the website said that operators detected an error signal while shutting down the observation system at the end of the night shift during the early morning of Saturday, July 2, 2011.

When engineers arrived to assess the situation, they found extensive leakage of coolant (ethylene glycol) over most of the entire . The leak originated from the “top unit” of the telescope, which is located at the center of the top ring and includes the Subaru Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam) and auxiliary optics.

Although they promptly shut off the supply of coolant, a significant amount of leakage had already occurred, from the top unit itself down to the tertiary mirror, the and some of its actuators, the Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS, a Cassegrain instrument) and its auxiliary optics, and the telescope floor.

The engineers attempted to clean up and remove as much coolant as possible. However, such areas as optics, control circuits, and the inside of Suprime-Cam and FOCAS were inaccessible during the initial clean-up.

The coolant consists of a mixture of water and , a liquid commonly used in a vehicle’s radiator for cooling. The is not corrosive and does not damage the primary mirror, which has a foundation of glass.

The Subaru Telescope is located on the Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, with offices in the town of Hilo. The Subaru website said they will post updates on the status of the telescope and its recovery.

Explore further: Spitzer Space Telescope: Warmed Up and Ready to Go

Related Stories

A Fresh Look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot

April 2, 2010

( -- New, ground-breaking thermal images obtained with powerful ground-based telescopes show swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

Two kinds of Webb telescope mirrors arrive at NASA Goddard

April 13, 2011

It takes two unique types of mirrors working together to see farther back in time and space than ever before, and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have just received one of each type. Primary and Secondary ...

Lasers spectacular

June 10, 2011

The new laser on the Keck I telescope has inspired two avid Mauna Kea photographers to capture the light show in a series of stunning images and videos. We’ve collected some of their work here for your entertainment ...

Recommended for you

Blue skies, frozen water detected on Pluto

October 8, 2015

Pluto has blue skies and patches of frozen water, according to the latest data out Thursday from NASA's unmanned New Horizons probe, which made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet in July.

Orbiter views Mars surface fractures

October 8, 2015

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter often takes images of Martian sand dunes to study the mobile soils. These images provide information about erosion and ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2011
I'm so sorry for the scientists who had scheduled time in the following weeks. I hope there's no long-term damage, and they get it fixed soon.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.