PPT in the News… Again

It was a last minute request. OK, not actually the last minute, but two days is not much lead time to plan a public outreach event.

Fortunately there was not much to arrange, a single solar telescope and the standard table setup we keep packed and ready to go, all we had to do was show up. Drive up to the Pōhakuloa Training Area to join in their Earth Day events. There would be several hundred students from local schools, tables and displays from other organizations, a good outreach opportunity.

Pōhakuloa Solar Telescope
A solar telescope set up at Pōhakuloa Training Area for Earth Day.
In ten years of driving past the front gates of PTA, I had never been inside. Why not, just an easy drive from Waikoloa, and I have a telescope that will do the job perfectly.

It seems odd that a military base would celebrate Earth Day. What do attack helicopters, live munitions, and troops have to do with the environment? The answer should not be that surprising… Military bases are often large effective nature reserves.

Large areas of land, much of which sits unused and undisturbed, are closed to public access. An active range needs huge safety and buffer zones around the firing ranges. Of the 133,000 acres that makes up PTA, only a small percentage is directly impacted by the training activities. The rest is home to a endemic and endangered species, closed to any activity that can disturb the land.

In recent decades the military has increasingly managed these lands to preserve the natural value. Large ranges generally have biologists and land management teams on staff. At Pōhakuloa the land has been surveyed, inventories of plants and animals have been done, large areas have been fenced to exclude invasive pigs and sheep and to allow the native Hawaiian ecosystem to thrive.

The telescope I took was PPT, or the Pretty Purple Telescope. That is what everyone calls it, even if I long ago I named this ‘scope Violet Haze. This 90mm APO is a perfect solar scope for kids that provides excellent images. This is the same ‘scope that provided imagery for our live webcast of the 2012 Venus Transit.

The Sun on 20April2017
The Sun on 20April2017
Thus I spent the day swamped in kids. They did not all hit at once, I was one of a dozen stations they could visit, the groups were ten to twenty at a time. Even better, the Sun provided a nice group of sunspots to view. Spots are few now that we are in solar minimum, anything was better than Cherry Blossom Festival when we set up solar telescope and had no spots!

As a result of the day PPT made the news yet again, featured in a nice photo in the local newspaper. Not me, just the telescope and a bunch of local school kids from Ka‘ūmana Elementary.

As we learned about hydrogen energy, recycling, or looked at the Sun, the range was active. In the distance you could hear the rattle of automatic weapons fire and the distinctive whoosh of helicopter launched rockets. A reminder that this was a military range, if you needed that with uniformed soldiers all about.

Outside that gate protesters held their media event, showing up for the news cameras and de-camping shortly after. I wanted to get a look and may be a photo or two for the blog, but they came after I arrived and were gone before I left. I never had a chance to wander around being quite busy with the ‘scope and guests.

Tiring but a good day. I spent six hours in the Sun, avoiding a bad sunburn with a heavy shirt, hat, and liberal amounts of SFP 30 sunscreen. I quickly lost count of how many kids looked through the telescope, hundreds easily. I ran out of Keck stickers to give away, quite popular! All-in-all a very good day.

Author: Andrew

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

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