I was just a bit surprised… A clear sky over Kealakehe High School in the evening. This almost never happens, usually the lee side of Hualalai is a mass of clouds in the late afternoon and evening. There is only one thing to conclude… We got lucky.
Actually is was the families and students attending the Kealakehe STEM Camp who got lucky. With clear skies we were able to show the hundreds of parents and students the stars, planets, and the Moon in the telescopes. I really did not think it would happen, I was clear enough in South Kohala, but as I drove down the coast I could see the big nimbus clouds over Kona. As it grew dark the clouds dissipated and the stars appeared, we were going to have a star party.
We had five scopes, from Charlie’s 80mm refractor to a Cliff”s 24″ dob. Add Tony’s 14″ dob, Keck support astronomer Hein with the observatory’s 8″ outreach telescope, and myself with the usual 11″ Nexstar I use for outreach. (Thanks guys!!) It was a big crowd, every telescope was in business with lines of folks waiting to see. The event was hosted by a high school, but the students attending this evening were of all ages. The whole family was there to enjoy the night, little brothers and sisters, and mom and dad taking turns at the eyepiece to view.
Under clearing skies we had a great selection of stuff to look at… Jupiter is still high enough in the evening sky to observe, Mars is high overhead, and Saturn was rising. Add a first quarter Moon and we had plenty of bright targets. The streetlights of the high school campus were bright, but with bright planets and the Moon to view we had no problems.
As we waited for it to get dark and for the clouds to break, I did my “On-Sky” talk about Keck to a cafeteria with a couple hundred kids and parents. The talk is designed for a general audience, and has improved with repetition. Judging by the non-stop questions it was going over well, giving folks a glimpse into the daily operation of the observatory.
A fun evening, the best sort of astronomy outreach… A crowd of folks enjoying the night, a little education mixed with fun. A chance to explain what we at Keck do to our local community.