Sym­bol in the sky

AS­TEROID NAMED AFTER HAWAII COUNTY TRAF­FIC EN­GI­NEER

West Hawaii Today - - Island Life - SPE­CIAL TO WEST HAWAII TO­DAY

Hawaii County Traf­fic Di­vi­sion Chief Ron­ald Thiel knows lights. Much of his work fo­cuses on keep­ing lo­cal streets safe with street lights, traf­fic lights and hazard lights.

He also knows where lights are not help­ful – when light pol­lu­tion in­ter­feres with the work of as­tronomers and the lives of na­tive wildlife.

For Thiel’s work pre­serv­ing “dark skies” in Hawaii County, an as­teroid was re­cently named in his honor – 9923 ronaldthiel.

The as­teroid nam­ing cer­e­mony took place on Sept. 28, pre­sented by Dr. Richard Wain­scoat of the Univer­sity of Hawaii at a meet­ing of the Mauna Kea User’s Com­mit­tee in Hilo, a county news re­lease stated. The as­teroid was first dis­cov­ered by as­tronomer Bobby Bus on March 7, 1981, with an or­bit of 1,723 days around the sun. It has a di­am­e­ter of 2.55 miles.

Over the years, Thiel has doggedly pushed for in­no­va­tion, some­times going against the flow of traf­fic. In­dus­try naysay­ers said it could not be done with LightEmit­ting-Diode (LED) lamps, so he waited for tech­nol­ogy to catch up, and he searched for the right man­u­fac­turer.

In 2009, the Amer­i­can Re­cov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act made it pos­si­ble to take small steps with the pur­chase of the first LED street lamps. Sub­se­quent County in­vest­ments and a part­ner­ship with the state of Hawaii re­sulted in the in­stal­la­tion of 11,000 LED lamps on county and state road­ways across Hawaii Is­land. Hawaii County, which is nearly the size of the state of Con­necti­cut, be­came the first county in the na­tion to con­vert all of its street lights to LED lamps.

The LED lamps sup­port the Is­land’s $ 58.4 mil­lion as­tron­omy in­dus­try’s needs for dark skies. Is­land ob­ser­va­to­ries scan the heav­ens to im­prove our un­der­stand­ing of the far reaches of space, in­clud­ing as­ter­oids like the 9923 ronaldthiel.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Ron­ald Thiel stands with his plaque etch­ing his as­troid en­deavor in his­tory.

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