Kohala Skies

While much of the island focused on events taking place on the slopes of Mauna Kea, we had a better plan for Monday evening… Take some activities, and a couple telescopes out to a local library and share the sky with anyone who came.

Shelly the the Pretty Purple Telescope
Shelly enjoying a view of Jupiter through the PPT

We planned to bring a presentation and activities to the Kohala library. While the gals presented inside we had a couple telescopes setup outside the front door for anyone to enjoy. Thus is was a team of four… Shelly, Kelleen, Scott, and myself that arrived at the library about 5pm.

The drive over the Kohala on the mountain road is often pretty in the late afternoon. This day was no exception, the afternoon lighting the rolling green hills, Haleakala on Maui looming directly ahead of me as I drove.

I do worry about setting up a star party in Kohala as the weather is notoriously fickle and heavy rain squalls can sweep off the ocean very quickly. I was greeted by nearly clear skies, a pleasant surprise that bode well for the evening.

While Shelly and Kelleen setup for the inside program, Scott and I setup ‘scopes for looking at the one star that was in the sky. I had brought the old Losmandy G11 mount as this would fit the new Hα solar telescope and spectrograph, then allow me to switch to another telescope for the evening planets.

The solar spectrum in the yellow
The solar spectrum in the yellow

The new solar setup includes a solar spectrograph. This simple little device displays a fairly good resolution spectrum of the sunlight. The resolution is good enough that hundreds of absorption lines are visible. You can pick out the hydrogen Balmer lines, the sodium 589nm doublet, and much more.

On a day when the Sun has no spots to look at, no prominences visible in the Hα ‘scope, the spectrograph gives you something very interesting to talk about with guests. Talking about spectrographs with such a visible example is good science, and ties in very well with what we do at the observatory.

After dark the skies were glorious, the worried about clouds holding off long enough to allow everyone to enjoy. As the Sun set a nearly full Moon rose with Saturn in close accompaniment. Our telescopes swung about as soon as Jupiter appeared out of the gloaming.

Kelleen and Shelly had a general observatory talk and and infrared demonstration to entertain the library patrons, and maybe sneak a little science in as well. Unfortunately we were busy outside and had no chance to check out the program ourselves.

A crowd developed around the telescopes when the inside activities finished. Jupiter bright and up high, Saturn so close to a nearly full Moon you could see the planet and the limb of the Moon in the same eyepiece field.

Seeing was more than good too, the details of Jupiter and its moons sharp in the telescope, the cloud bands and the red spot easily visible. All four moons were neatly laid out, Io by itself on one side, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto to the other side. It is always great when the sky cooperates like this, such a spectacular view for everyone to enjoy.

We were loath to leave as long as folks were enjoying the sky with us. Eventually the library manager had to call an end to it, time to shoo everyone out and lock the gates. Clouds were thickening in the eastern sky as well, swallowing the Moon and Saturn, then threatening Jupiter.

We broke down the ‘scopes and started the drive back, with the occasional glance out the window at a very pretty Moon over the Kohala.

Author: Andrew

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

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