A Good Night at Kaʻohe

I have had to cancel the last three monthly club star parties, three in a row. The February, March and April new Moon star parties did not happen. Yes, the weather this spring has been that bad, just horrible for stargazing. This has affected the large observatories atop the summit, with over 70% of the time lost for March and April.

The 8" Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
The 8″ Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
As the date for this star party approached I checked the forecast and satellite images with apprehension. This actually looks like we might get a clear night.

Which telescope? That decision was already made, I have been looking forward to a dark night with the classic 8″ Cave Astrola since finishing the restoration months ago. Previous attempts another victim of the bad weather. With my vehicle in the shop it took a little disassembly to fit this telescope in my wife’s Honda, but it fit.

Driving up the mountain a cloudless Mauna Kea greeted me, the scene a complete opposite to what I feared. This might actually happen.

I was surprised to see only a few guys showed up. Only three of use were there to enjoy the dark night. Cliff had brought his 24″ telescope, but without the staff needed to assemble it, as a result it sat unused in his truck. As usual Bernt’s plan was photography, his instrument a Canon 6D camera and a couple wide, fast, prime lenses.

The 8" Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
The 8″ Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
Thus everyone had fun around the 8″ Astrola, which provided excellent views of the globular clusters and galaxies available in the spring sky.

I have to admit I succumbed to the temptation and sent a taunting message on the club Facebook group . A photo of the telescope silhouetted against the clear sky with the caption “Why are you not here?” I know, very juvenile, I still did it.

Cliff once owned a Cave Astrola, using this one he was reliving old memories. He was downright exuberant as he used the ‘scope to find some showpiece objects like the Jewelbox and Omega Centauri. I just let him go for a while, no stopping Cliff when he gets rolling.

WHAC members setup at Kaʻohe, 12 May, 2018
WHAC members setup at Kaʻohe, 12 May, 2018
The military was playing games on the range below us, helicopters charging about and hovering in the darkness. A drone wandered about, identifiable by its odd green light and the buzz of a small propeller.

There was also some sort of garishly bright light setup in the valley below, blasting the landscape. Fortunately it could be avoided by setting up back from the edge of the parking area we use.

There was no exploration of new objects this night, I spent the hours looking up old favorites, the brighter globular clusters and galaxies that are suited to an 8” telescope.

I also spent time refreshing my knowledge if the sky, noting constellations and specific stars, remembering where one ended and the next began, the names of some of the lesser known stars, and finding objects from memory.

NGC4945 – Large, faint, very elongated, no notable core, no dust lane, simply a general brightening to the center without structure

NGC2903 – Bright and easy to find off the Sickle of Leo, elongated into a 1×4 oval, an almost stellar core at the center

M7 – An easy unaided eye cluster, large! bright! coarse, flling the field of the 22mm eyepiece with bright stars, several dozen blue stars scattered in clumps across a field over half a degree in diameter, the stars of the cluster sre set against a background haze of Milky Way stars, a notable dark mottling of dark nebulae throughout the cluster

M6 – A distinct grouping of a few dozen bright stars, bright, coarse, large at 15′ across, fully resolved, a very pretty sight in the eyepiece, visible to the unaided eye north of the scorpion’s tail

The 8" Cave Astrola under the Milky Way
The 8″ Cave Astrola under the Milky Way at Kaʻohe
Between rounds at the eyepiece I played with the camera, attempting to capture the night. I had a new toy, an Rokinon 16mm f/2 lens to try. Well? Not that new, it too had been waiting months for a dark, cloudless sky.

I wrapped it up it in about 2am, disassembling the telescope and packing it into the vehicle. The others had left a while before me, I lingered under such a beautiful sky. Hopefully this marks the end of the bad weather and the start of many more good nights under Mauna Kea stars.

Author: Andrew

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

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