A Calm Night at Kaʻohe

It has been too long since I really got out with a telescope.  The ‘scopes have been out, but usually doing public work like last weekend’s Winter Star Party at CFHT in Waimea.  Time to get a good night for myself.

Awaiting dark with the 20" telescope
Andrew Unger beside the 20″ Obsession while waiting for properly dark skies at Kaʻohe

As president of our little club I make the schedule and choose the night.  Last month was a bust, bad weather rolling in both weekends either side of new Moon.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised when this particular Saturday I had chosen looked perfect, not a cloud in the sky over Mauna Kea.

It was the wind that was likely to spoil the night.  In Waimea and Waikoloa strong trade winds roared and rushed.  A pall of dust could be seen over the whole area from Waimea to the sea.  The Kaʻohe site has a particular blessing, it is directly in the lee of the mountain when the trades come out of the nor’east.

Continue reading “A Calm Night at Kaʻohe”

A Threshold of Knowledge

How can someone possibly believe that the world is flat? Evidence our world is a sphere can be found everywhere you look, yet many insist that photos of a globe are lies. How can anyone believe the world is only a few thousand years old? There are literally mountains of evidence for an ancient planet 4.5 billion years old.

Chang'e 5 Earth and Moon
The Chang’e 5 test vehicle service module took this photo of Earth and the Moon together. Credit CSNA

There are so many such beliefs floating about, and a surprising number of die-hard adherents to such fallacies. Yet they persist, and in this internet connected world some of these ideas flourish.

There are many reasons for such beliefs. Some occur as they seem right and are accepted without critical examination. Other beliefs are strongly held as a result of indoctrination from a young age. Once embedded deeply into a worldview such beliefs are very difficult to dislodge.

There is one factor that can be seen in most, if not all adherents to alternate worldviews… A lack of fundamental knowledge about how the world works, a lack of breadth to that knowledge. They have never reached a critical threshold of understanding, they never develop a good personal method of evaluating ideas, of testing against the evidence.

Once you reach a certain point in understanding our world, when you have learned enough to start making sense of that body of knowledge, you start seeing the connections, you gain an understanding of the whole. Proper understanding allows new ideas to be tested, to see how any new idea fits into the whole, to see the supporting connections.

Continue reading “A Threshold of Knowledge”

Giving Tours

It is odd working at a place that everyone wants to visit. To be expected working at the world’s best observatory, after a dozen years the novelty of the situation has never grown old.

Kama‘āina Observatory Experience Tour at Keck
A Kama‘āina Observatory Experience Tour group visiting Keck 2
I enjoy leading a tour through the building. Doing a tour gives me a chance to vicariously see the facility through my audience’s eyes, seeing this special place afresh, to renew the fascination and wonder.

I think I am a fairly good tour guide, everyone says so, they might be right. Certainly after a decade of tours I have heard most of the questions and have ready and well rehearsed answers.

Looking at the primary mirror of the Keck 1 telescope
Looking at the primary mirror of the Keck 1 telescope
Inside tours of Keck Observatory are currently only available two ways… Know someone who works at the observatory, or take one of the monthly Kama‘āina Observatory Experience tours offered through ‘Imiloa and supported by all of the Mauna Kea observatories.

The KOE tour is free, but open to Hawaii residents only, you have to have a Hawaii ID to go. Each month the tours visit two observatories, rotating through the various observatories on the summit. The tours are also immensely popular, filling up very quickly.

This coming Saturday the KOE tours will visit the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory. If you are on one of the morning tours, yes, I will be there, leading a tour through our facility.