2017 Cherry Blossom Festival Star Party

Cherry Blossom Festival is a huge event where a large segment of the island population descends upon Waimea for a day of celebration. there are booths and events all across town. There are cultural demonstrations, cooking demonstrations, performances, and lots of food available for an all day, all town festival.

Solar Viewing
Viewing the Sun at the Cherry Blossom Festival
With most of the parking on the south side of Keck observatory, the shopping mall parking lots, and the main event venue north of Keck at Church Row where the cherry trees are, a huge number of people cross the observatory lawns on their way to the festival. It is a natural fit for us to use the day for an outreach event.

The festival is also a very local event. Sure there are a few tourists drawn to Waimea for a festival. But, by and large this is a local event, the majority of attendees are island residents.

The same plan as last year… Get a few volunteers together, put a few telescopes in the front lawn, invite everyone to look. We accomplish a few things… We remind folks that the observatory is part of the community, participating in community events like this. We get people to look at the universe beyond our small planet, even if just to the nearest star. And, just maybe, we slip a little real science into the conversation.

Solar Viewing
Viewing the Sun at the Cherry Blossom Festival
The difference this year is that we are officially on the program for the day. Last year we just did it, taking advantage of the crowd crossing the Keck lawn. This year we contacted the organizers and were part of the schedule and on the event map in the program, people knew we would be there.

Our little effort was also fully backed by the observatory outreach committee, they even sprung for a commercial tent to give us some shelter from the Sun, or the rain if Waimea lives up to reputation.

Of course it all works thanks to the dedicated volunteers of the West Hawaii Astronomy Club. These folks are always ready to set up a telescope and show the wonders of the universe to anyone who stops by.

It turns out this particular Saturday that rain was the least of our worries, the sky was completely cloud free all day. Not so much as a wisp of cloud was about to interfere with the view. the intense tropical sunlight was the issue, sunscreen, hats, and umbrellas were required protective gear.

Solar Viewing
Viewing the Sun at the Cherry Blossom Festival
The solar weather was a bit more troublesome, with solar minimum approaching there was not so much as a single sunspot to be seen! Nothing! The view was rather unexciting in the white light solar telescopes. There were a number of small prominences to be seen in the H-alpha telescopes.

To complement the views in the telescopes Ben arrived, setting up a computer to display a feed from the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory. On the monitor you could see the prominences, a magnetogram, and a coronagraph view of the solar corona, all nearly live.

We were busy all day, the crowd around the ‘scopes averaging twenty to thirty folks constantly for the entire time. Scheduled to end at 2pm we were running until after 3pm. Cherry Blossom is a great outreach opportunity where we can reach a lot of folks. A fun and very successful event. Yes, you can call it a star party when only one star can be seen.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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