The Lights Went Out in Kapaʻau

An interesting bit of news passed along, HELCO was planning a power outage at 8pm. I expect my reaction to this information was a little different than most… This is great! With a school star party scheduled at Kohala Elementary, the news that the entire town would be dark for the star party was a pleasant surprise.

Mr. O's Stars
Mr. O shows a family the stars at Kohala Elementary
It would be a long day… Up early to pack the telescope, up to the summit for a day of working on the AO system, troubleshooting a couple issues plaguing observations. Then an early departure from the summit to head for Waimea and over the Kohala Mountain Road to Kapaʻau on the very north end of the island.

I stopped to get dinner in Hawi on the way. Surprisingly the Bamboo Restaurant was open early, they normally do not open until 6pm. I find out that the whole town was bracing for the power cut at 8pm, with events and opening times moved up. Not everyone had gotten the notice, I was the only diner in the restaurant. A pleasant meal chatting with the staff and a good burger were just what I needed, food and a brief rest to prepare for the evening.

Arrival at the school revealed preparation for a major event. A stage and sound system were being set up, along with a generator to allow operation into the power outage. The evening was part of a summer enrichment program running through much of the month. Major themes of the program included space science and astronomy. A cafeteria filled with student exhibits showed that the kids have had a great time with the program.

We work out a spot to setup the telescopes as WHAC club members and telescopes start to arrive. Some outreach folks from CFHTalso attended, providing a robust observatory showing, seven ‘scopes in all. We would need every eyepiece, with much of the school present it was a substantial crowd!

Students at Kohala Elementary present a tribute to Hōkūle‘a
The summer program had a whole show set up with presentations by the students on cultural and space related themes. A major part of the show was a musical tribute to Hōkūleʻa, the famous voyaging canoe just starting out on a worldwide expedition. The school is participating in the voyage, following the journey electronically. There will be chances for the students to talk with the crew along the way and produce from the school garden; kalo, `uala, and other Hawaiian staples will help supply the voyage.

Students at Kohala Elementary make presentations on major constellations
Another set was a presentation on the constellations. Cards showed the pattern of stars while constellation was discussed. While I am not sure the audience will remember it all, I am certain the students will remember the lessons for a long time.

The lights went out right on schedule. The school went dark, the only light from the movie screen now showing Wall-E. Even though the main program was over, few folks expressed any urgency to return to darkened homes. The school was the community activity of the evening. The telescopes were surrounded by families eager to see what we had to offer.

Cumulus clouds drifting through did cause some frustration, blocking the view of Saturn and other objects for periods of time. The clouds did have openings however, viewers patience was rewarded by beautiful views between the clouds. And it was dark! The school lights off, the movie hidden by the corner of the cafeteria. Hawi and Kapaʻau are rural to begin with, without power things are truly dark!

When the clouds did relent the viewing was great. Sharp views of Saturn and objects along the rising Milky Way. Alberio, bright star clusters, a brilliant Venus and of course Saturn. My ‘scope was on the ringed planet all evening, the line of folks wanting to see Saturn was unrelenting. Fortunately the conditions provided a view worth the wait!

Tony and Stars
Tony shows a group of enthusiastic students views with his 12.5″ dob.
With the presentation for the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa earlier in the evening, it was appropriate that the star Hōkūleʻa (Arcturus on western star charts) was directly overhead this evening. I pointed out the bright red star and talked about how you could use Hōkūleʻa to find Hawaiʻi. With a declination of 19°N the star transits through zenith if you are at the correct latitude for the Hawaiian Islands. If you are sailing too far north, Hōkūleʻa will be to the south, if you are too far south, Hōkūleʻa will be to the north. If the star transits directly overhead you are at the correct latitude to arrive on the Big Island.

It was really worth the effort to get the telescopes up to Kohala for this event. With the whole school participating in the evening’s events it was a great opportunity to show folks the sky. I was glad we could add another part to a fun program.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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