A Great Night at the VIS

Last night was the sort of evening we love, and the reason we volunteer at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. One of those nights where the stars seem close enough to touch, we bring them within reach of those who came to the mountain to learn about the universe.

MKVIS at Night
The Mauna Kea VIS at night with a crowd at the telescopes
Conditions were near perfect, a dark, clear sky with no Moon, it would rise later. Not only was it dark, but the air was steady, allowing nice high magnification views of Jupiter and other objects. The air was still, it was cold, but without the wind that can make conditions miserable at 9,200ft. The result was a beautiful night that everyone cold enjoy to the fullest.

Joining us were visitors from around the world, I met people speaking German, Spanish and Czech, a British family living in Japan, and more. About fifty people were to be found on the patio when I did the evening star talk. Not only did they come, but they came with curious minds and a will to learn. The questions came from all sides, fast and furious, a constant stream of information.

With such beautiful sights in the telescope to see, the questions just come naturally. I used a C-14 on the Astro-Physics mount to jump from object to object, the Swan Nebula, the globular cluster of M22, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Wild Duck Cluster, the Ring Nebula, the Dumbell Nebula, Alberio. Everything looked so nice that even as jaded observer, I found myself lingering at the eyepiece to enjoy the view.

The evening was a series of personal conversations with one group or family. I would try to use little vignettes to put the knowledge in context, the shape and size of our galaxy, or the story of star birth and death. Trying to convey, in a few minutes, a little glimpse of a bigger picture and not just a mess of gee-whiz information. Sometimes this works, and you are rewarded with a moment of connection, where your audience suddenly understands.

That is what we come to the mountain for.

Author: Andrew

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

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