A Moonlit Night at Kaʻohe

It was Norman who started it.

The last glow of Sunset over Hualālai, with Venus just about to set behind the mauna and Jupiter high above.
The last glow of Sunset over Hualālai, with Venus just about to set behind the mauna and Jupiter high above.

An innocent email… Anyone interested in a star party this weekend?

Last weekend’s new Moon star party had been a bust, heavy clouds overhead were a disappointment to those of us waiting for a good dark night.

Given the positive response to Norman’s email there seems to be a few folks ready to go despite a bright Moon in the sky. With the weather looking good the Saturday afternoon email flurry showed that a few folks were going, thus I joined in.

As per Mauna Kea normal I drove through the clouds, heavy fog on Saddle Road just a mile from Kaʻohe made the trip seem hopeless. But as I neared the turn I suddenly found myself above the clouds, the bright Moon high over Hualalai.

We arrived at Kaʻohe to find a crowd of hunters. half a dozen trucks at the check-in station, guys in camo and orange vests, with dogs and shotguns. November brings bird season, hunters come to seek quail and pheasant on the high slopes. No worries, they were packing up and heading home at sunset.

Another truck was sitting in my usual setup spot, a trio of brothers were loading dirk bikes into the back of a pickup. They asked what I was doing as I setup nearby and I invited them over to take a look.

There may have been moonlight, but there was also a beautiful line of planets in the sunset… Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn in a neat line leading to a six day old Moon.

A few 'scopes set up under moonlight at Kaʻohe
A few ‘scopes set up under moonlight at Kaʻohe

I showed the brothers the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn and showed them how to take a couple cell phone photos of the Moon. They were very happy they waited a few minutes to take a look.

There were five of us who decided to make it a night despite the moonlight. Norman, Maureen, Andre and Anna, plus myself. Just as well, as we did not have a DLNR permit given the last minute plans we could not have ten or more in the group, five is legal.

With the bright Moon the faint fuzzies were too faint to really enjoy. Quick looks at M33 and NGC891 were nothing to make notes about. Instead I spent the evening on clusters and carbon stars.

A cluster of telescopes at Kaʻohe
A cluster of telescopes at Kaʻohe

DS Cas Quite faint, near minimum? very red, confirmed with DSS image

μ Cephei A bright star, visible to the unaided eye, bright orange

NGC457 A bright cluster, large, coarse, fully resolved, two much brighter stars on the southeastern margin, φCas at mag 5.0 and HD7902 mag 7.0, with a scattering of stars over a 15′ area, arranged in notable clumps

FR Cas Faint, very red, surrounded by a box of 10th magnitude stars

Usually I hunt carbon stars from my driveway where the neighborhood streetlights prevent faint fuzzy hunting. Under moonlight they make a nice option, these deep red stars have always fascinated me since I stumbled across the first one so many decades ago.

NGC189 A clump in a rich star field, about a dozen 10-12 magnitude stars embedded in a faint haze about 5′ in extent

Stock 24 An unimpressive cluster, about a dozen 11-12 magnitude stars in a 5′ area, coarse, resolved, with a hazy patch on the northern margin, star hopped from NGC225 to confirm

NGC225 Large, poor, coarse, fully resolved, a dozen 10-11 magnitude stars in a 15′ area

With a commitment to provide a solar telescope at Astroday on Sunday I too headed home just a bit after 11pm. I packed just as the Moon was setting behind the summit of Hualālai.

With the telescope packed and loaded I paused, the sky notably darker with the moon behind the mauna. Without a telescope I just enjoyed the dark for a moment before driving home.

Author: Andrew

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

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