Deb and I did a volunteer evening at the VIS last night. A great night with a great crowd, the sort of evening that defines the reason we continue to volunteer at the Mauna Kea VIS. Lots of great questions, great conversations and a little learning about the sky and Mauna Kea. As the southern cross hung above the slopes of Mauna Loa my green laser was busy pointing out constellations and bright stars.
The only real problem with the evening was the nearly full Moon hanging in the sky. The bright moonlight drowning out many of the deep sky objects we would normally view. Even bright objects like M13 were merely dim smudged in the eyepiece in place of the beautiful sights they offer under darker skies. With these conditions much of the telescope viewing was concentrated on the Moon and a beautiful planet Saturn.
One activity that is always a hit with a bright Moon partly makes up for the loss of dark sky viewing. I hold and quick course in introductory lunar photography using the afocal method. Show a few people how to take lunar photos and there is soon a line of people waiting at the refractor for their turn to try a few frames. A few hints and people are quickly taking great lunar shots, a photo and a memory to take home from the mountain.
The evening sped by quickly, spent in conversation with guests from the islands and from across the US. People ask about the sky as seen from different latitudes and locations. A few visitors from other countries add their perspective. It is often interesting to hear about other names for constellations or to learn bits of folklore from many other cultures.
So often the crowd disappears an hour after dark, driven off by the cold and wind. This night many didn’t go until it was time to shut down the telescopes. I guess they were not ready to end an enjoyable evening under moonlight.