Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Taste of WHACo Astronomy

We're having quite the time in Hawaii - I can think of about 3 posts a day as we fill our schedule with snorkeling, shopping and eating (and that is just today)!  Tonight we were invited to  a Halloween astronomy outreach event by Andrew Cooper, our buddy here who gave us a great tour of Keck last weekend that I'll certainly be posting about later.  Tonight he continues the tradition of Bob Goff, a mutual friend who decades ago set up a telescope to entertain trick-or-treaters who came by his house.  Bob, who passed about a decade ago, was a neighborhood superstar who was the talk of kids for miles around.  This time Andrew solicited the help of members of the West Hawaii Astronomy Club, or WHACos, to set up at a local mall who was running a program for kids tonight for Halloween. 

Of course, the first thing an amateur astronomer learns on tropical islands at sea level - you can't always plan on it being clear!  Up at their regular observing site at Mauna Kea Visitor Center, yes, they often observe from above the clouds,  but near the ocean, clouds and rain occur frequently.  The sunset started out great - the photo at left shows Andrew's workplace atop Mauna Kea - the Keck Telescopes - the rounded domes at left, one of which has the shadow of the Subaru (Japanese National Telescope) cast upon it.  The view is one often seen from the western coast of Hawaii when weather cooperates, nearly 3 miles above us and about 25 miles downrange to the east of us from our hotel.
But an hour later at the mall, there were a large herd of kids, a number of telescopes set up, and unfortunately, nary a hole in the sky allowing starlight to penetrate.  The photo at left shows Andrew trying to identify a random star that had popped out in the northeast.  Yes, there are lots of stray lights, but often in doing astronomy outreach, you need to set up your equipment where people are located.  There were not a lot of bright objects in the early evening sky, and the clouds made a frustrating experience.  It even sprinkled rain for a brief interval! 
Fortunately it cleared a little, allowing some of the kids that stayed a little later to check out the moon.  It is interesting to me how all the kids grabbed Andrew's scope.  Perhaps it is because of the short stepladder, but a number managed to "manually" slew the telescope to the zenith!  At least the sky allowed some viewing at the same time the Moon cleared the condos across the lake.  We also managed to get a peek at the ISS rising from the west disappearing into the Earth's shadow a few minutes earlier.  Perfect timing!
After a bite of dinner, Melinda and I took a short road trip up the Kohala Mountain Road, about 25 miles north of where we are staying.  I noticed in passing a few days ago that the view of the west coast of Hawaii was quite spectacular from the 3500 foot level of the "scenic view" located there.  So we returned tonight to take a few photos to assemble into a panorama, and my favorite section is reproduced here showing the coast from the Mauna Kea Resort at lower right to the Kona Airport Just over the rise of Hualalai at top.  Our hotel is at the Waikoloa Complex right at the center of the frame. 
This is an interesting place - while the island is roughly triangular about 80 miles on a side, the huge range in elevations create nearly all earthly life zones from tropical rain forest to tundra conditions, and driving for only a few miles can change conditions enormously.  It would take some getting used to living here, but between the island's history and culture, climate, astronomy and sea life, it could certainly keep one entertained for a long time!


torie kai said...

I love that last picture. It looks like a golden river.

Jimmy Limo said...

Beautiful night shot... PLEEEASE post the full nighttime panorama. I used to own the 35 acres right below the "Scenic Point" and it broke my heart to sell it. Hope to re-acquire it someday... Mahalo & Alooooha !