It was a perfect day to do an astronomy outreach event. Of course as it was a daytime event, only one star is available for viewing in the telescopes… The Sun. Set up a few solar telescopes for an astro outreach event.
A simple plan… Set up in the lawn in front of Keck Observatory headquarters and wait for the crowds around the telescopes. Not that I have any illusions about our little outreach event drawing huge crowds. There is a method to my plan, we do this on the same day as Cherry Blossom Festival!
The festival guarantees a huge crowd of people for an outreach event, no advertising needed. The main part of the festival takes place along church row where the cherry trees are, next door to Keck headquarters. Much of the available parking is at the shopping centers on the other side of headquarters. There is a steady stream of hundreds of people right through our lawn. All we needed to do was to set up and be ready for a crowd.
A few friendly looking telescopes, a couple signs with the prominent word “free”… We had a crowd! As one would expect they came in surges, for four hours it varied between a few people at each telescope to a good sized line at every telescope, with up to fifty people gathered around at at time. We had three telescopes operating, two eight inch telescopes with white light filters and the Coronado PST providing a hydrogen alpha view.
The great part about this event is that the crowd is very local, these are island residents, not tourists. There are also a lot of kids as this is very much a family event. We had a constant stream of keiki at the telescopes. I had forgotten to bring a step-stool, fortunately I was able to steal one from shipping and receiving when setting up.
I always wonder about the weather when scheduling an observing event in Waimea, more than once we have looked at the clouds and left the telescopes in their cases. The mornings are usually clear, with the clouds moving in around lunchtime. I had scheduled our event to end at 1pm, and actually expected to be shut down before that. This was not to be, the weather was perfect, just a few wisps of clouds moving across the Sun towards then end.
Unfortunately the hydrogen alpha view was quiet, no good prominences to be seen all day. On the other hand the white light view was pretty good, with a very nice sunspot group right in the middle of the disk. I would describe the sunspots as appearing like an island archipelago, and folks immediately understood what I was describing. It does help that we live in an archipelago. We could talk about churning plasma and magnetic fields, cooler and hotter regions of the Sun, and solar flares. All of the good stuff could be related to the view in the eyepiece.
I did schedule the event in two shifts, thus I did not end up working the entire four hours. I took a break for some good beef udon soup purchased at one of the vendor stalls at the festival. I spooned in enough red pepper sauce to make it nice and spicy, and slurped noodles to the pounding rhythm of taiko drums close enough to create ripples in my soup.
I am tired, slightly sunburned, and relived everything went as planned. My thanks to Maureen, Carlos, Josh and Cliff who came out to help out with the event! We shared our love for astronomy with the community and enjoyed the sight of so many children’s faces lit up by the sight of something new and fascinating. Totally worth it.