This summer, the most powerful solar telescope ever built should make its first observations of our sun — but the excitement isn’t just for scientists, the telescope team believes.

Instead, the National Solar Observatory, which is building the new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, wants to make sure that middle school students living near the telescope, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, get just as much from the brand-new instrument as scientists around the world will. That’s how a science curriculum called Journey to the Sun came to be. Its goal is to make solar science in particular and astronomy in general interesting and relevant to students growing up on Maui.

“We have a vested interest in supporting local students being interested in astronomy,” Claire Raftery, head of education and outreach at the National Solar Observatory, told last month at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union. “We have this huge resource … it’s going to be a huge step forward, and we want to see students going into the jobs at this telescope.” [What’s Inside the Sun? A Star Tour from the Inside Out]

The new facility is being built on Maui because, perched on the volcano called Haleakalā, the telescope will escape nearly all the effects of dust and turbulence that can interfere with observations of the sun’s wispy outer atmosphere, called the corona.

And the telescope itself is cutting-edge. “Some of the specifications they’ve had to build to, they blow my mind on a regular basis,” Raftery said, comparing the instrument to a piece of art. “The feats of engineering that have gone into this are really quite masterful.”

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