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Laser guide stars have increased the utility of adaptive optics systems by expanding the number of observable objects. The most common type of laser excites sodium in the mesosphere, and mesospheric sodium density is key to the performance of the laser. While a variety of observatories have conducted studies of the mesospheric sodium density, there are no published studies from Hawaii, which is home to some of the largest telescopes in the world. This paper presents mesospheric sodium densities measured by the University of Illinois lidar for 165 hr spanning 25 nights over 3 years. The mean sodium column density is 4.3 x 109 ± 0.2 x 109 cm-2, with a seasonal peak in the winter, as found at many other sites. The variations in a given night can be as high as the seasonal variation. We predict the average photon returns for the 15 W Keck II laser and a proposed 50 W laser at the Advanced Electro-Optical System 3.6 m telescope for the observed sodium abundances.

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The Astronomical Society of the Pacific