A Moonlit Hike to Lake Waiau

Sublime… One word in the English language that comes close… A frozen world of snow and ice, dark rock, illuminated by ethereal moonlight. A place more of the arctic than a tropical island. Recent storms have again created such a place on the summit of Mauna Kea. Just need to make a point to get out there and enjoy it.

Moonset Over Lake Waiau
A nearly full Moon setting over lake Waiau near the summit of Mauna Kea
The plan? Set the alarm clock for 2am, out of the house before 2:30am, arrive at the trailhead about 3:45am. I would take a walk with a camera, then drive back down to Hale Pōhaku for breakfast, then join the crew for a normal day working on the summit. A good plan, if somewhat exhausting. A plan that was executed exactly as originally envisioned.

It was the timing that was the factor here. A few things to come together to make this work… A good covering of snow, the summit road open to the public, and good weather with clear, starry skies. Clear skies have been in rare supply lately, a succession of winter storms bringing weeks of clouds.

The road being open to the public is also an important bit. While I could drive past the roadblock, the rangers know me, we are forbidden to engage in non-work activities on the summit if the road is closed to the public.

The needed factors came together this particular morning and I set the plan into action.

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Observing Sunset from the Summit of Mauna Kea

During discussions concerning a previous posting another aspect of the video of Ms. Pisciotta became the subject of the conversation. For one familiar with the summit and the position of the features, the claims seem unlikely, something worth a closer look.

Kealoha Pisciotta testifying on religious practice on the summit of Mauna Kea during a BLNR public meeting, video from Nā Leo TV
If you listen to the clip Ms. Pisciotta makes a very emphatic claim… That the construction of TMT will block the view of the Sun as it makes its annual pattern of sunsets along the horizon.

While I am singling out Ms. Pisciotta a bit here, she is a key figure in the opposition. She is a leader of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the most active opposition group and a primary participant in every significant legal case on the issue for the last several decades.

How can we examine this claim? From winter solstice, to equinox, to summer solstice, the position of sunrise and sunset changes significantly. This cycle has been tracked by shamans and priests for millennia, using the pattern to set the time of planting or religious ceremonies.

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Scientific Misappropriation

In learning about Mauna Kea and the multifaceted issues that surround our mauna. Reading and listening to modern practitioners describe their relationship with the mauna is interesting, you can learn much about the old beliefs and traditional relationships with the landscape and ecosystems of the islands.

In listening to some practitioners there are some claims that keep catching my attention. Claims that just seem out of place when considering traditional practices. More than once I have just stopped mid-thought and questioned what I just heard. A mental “What?!?”, did I hear that correctly? Some of these are subtle, perhaps missed by someone unfamiliar with the complex cycles of the our world and the sky above. Other claims are obvious, claims of practices or knowledge inconsistent with the old records.

Kealoha Pisciotta testifying on religious practice on the summit of Mauna Kea during a BLNR public meeting, video from Nā Leo TV
Most recently a claim that got my attention quickly was a celebration of a 26,000 year cycle. The claim was made during testimony at a BLNR board meeting when accepting the TMT conservation district use permit.

There is indeed a 26,000 year cycle in the patterns of the sky, well known to anyone seriously involved in astronomy. It is a result of a wobble in our Earth’s rotation called precession. The effect is extraordinarily subtle, something that could not be noted in a lifetime, or even a few lifetimes of careful sky-watching.

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Reminiscing on Ektachrome

Among some slides I recently digitized is a series of astrophotos featuring Orion. Taken in early 1986 this represents one of my early forays into astrophotography. While most of the images are troubled by bad tracking, at least two worked with round, if somewhat overexposed, stars. Judging by the field of view it was a 50mm lens which means it might be an f/1.8, the common nifty-fifty.

Ektachrome Orion
The constellation of Orion captured with Ektachrome film in 1986
The image was most likely taken with my father’s “borrowed” Canon AE-1 35mm camera riding on a small equatorial platform of my own construction. This platform consisted of two disks of acrylic and a small synchronous clock motor. I still have this platform… I wonder if it still runs?

A few thing are quickly revealed when looking at the image. Taken on Ektachrome film the image is heavy on the blue, with poor sensitivity in the deep red. The Orion Nebula shows very little color and less extant than I would expect. The image is also quite grainy, the film grain being quite obvious and distracting. I cleaned up the image a bit in Lightroom, but this is about as good as it gets.

The images was likely a fairly long exposure, perhaps 30 seconds to a couple minutes. I have no records to show how long, no EXIF information on a 35mm slide. The image would have been hand-timed with watch a manual shutter release cable.

Kodak has announced a resumption of Ektachrome production after ceasing all production in 2013. This appears to be in recognition of the remaining, but robust, niche community of film photographers and continued demand for film. First scheduled for 2017 this was delayed into 2018 due to the lack of availability of some materials necessary for production.

Even if the film again becomes available I doubt I will be grabbing a roll for astrophotos. I do have the cameras and lenses available to shoot film. Modern DLSR’s are vastly better at low light.