Mauna Kea Rules… Take 2

After last year’s debacle that occurred when trying to introduce administrative rules for public and commercial access to Mauna Kea, the University of Hawaii is back with a heavily revised version.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

How bad were the original version of the rules? In many areas they seemed to be badly thought out, with language far too expansive. Even a cursory reading reveals that the rules were not reviewed by someone familiar with some of the technical language used. Many of the proposed rules would have created safety issues, or even devoid of common sense.

It does appear that they actually listened to the criticism that was received in written form and at the public hearings. Many of the complete gaffes have been removed or reasonably revised.

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The Island Sky for 2019

2019 is looking to be a pretty ordinary year for events, with a few decent events to look forward to. The highlights will be a sunset total lunar eclipse on January 20th, the η-Aquariids meteor shower in early May, a transit of Mercury in November, and a nice set of planetary conjunctions in the sunset and sunrise.

Awaiting dark with the 20" telescope
Andrew Unger beside the 20″ Obsession while waiting for properly dark skies at Kaʻohe

There are dozens of posts scheduled here on DarkerView to remind my readers of these and many more events before they occur. Frankly, I need the reminder myself. Stay tuned for all of the great events the sky of 2019 will offer us.

The remainder of this post is a quick summary of the events our sky has to offer in 2019.

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A Good Night at Kaʻohe

I have had to cancel the last three monthly club star parties, three in a row. The February, March and April new Moon star parties did not happen. Yes, the weather this spring has been that bad, just horrible for stargazing. This has affected the large observatories atop the summit, with over 70% of the time lost for March and April.

The 8" Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
The 8″ Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
As the date for this star party approached I checked the forecast and satellite images with apprehension. This actually looks like we might get a clear night.

Which telescope? That decision was already made, I have been looking forward to a dark night with the classic 8″ Cave Astrola since finishing the restoration months ago. Previous attempts another victim of the bad weather. With my vehicle in the shop it took a little disassembly to fit this telescope in my wife’s Honda, but it fit.

Driving up the mountain a cloudless Mauna Kea greeted me, the scene a complete opposite to what I feared. This might actually happen.

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HB1565 Relating to Science and Technology Research

Another proposed bill that has been carried over from the 2017 legislative session is HB1565. The purpose of this bill is to create a conservation district sub-zone category specifically geared to supporting research and technology facilities. The astronomy precinct atop Mauna Kea is identified as such a sub-zone along with seven other sites such as NELHA and the facilities atop Haleakalā.

Sunset Crowd
A crowd of mountain visitors watch sunset around UKIRT

The legislature further finds that research activity brings in millions of dollars that help diversify and stabilize the State’s economy that is heavily dependent on tourism, which is a cyclical industry. A study of research expenditures in the University of Hawaii system alone, not including private or non-university funded federal projects, showed that research activity had an economic impact on business sales of $760,000,000, state taxes of $45,000,000, employee earnings of $275,000,000, and the generation of about seven thousand jobs. – Excerpt from HB1565 proposed legislation for the 2018 Hawaii legislature

The bill would designate specific lands to be used for science and technology facilities. More interestingly the bill specifies a set of rules by which these lands are to be administered and subleases are to be negotiated.

The bill simplifies and streamlines the land use decision process. In the case of opposition to development within a science and technology sub-zone the method of dispute is designated as mediation rather than a contested case hearing.

This bill is certain to be a lightning rod for opponents of astronomy on Mauna Kea and Hakeakula. The opposition will be vehement to say the least. Indeed, it will be interesting to read the opposition commentary.

Ahu
An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with the summit in the background
There is much to consider in this bill… Creating a sub-zone specifically for research facilities is probably a good thing. This recognizes a very specific land use that should have equally specific rules governing the use.

But there remains a question… Does the process specified in this particular bill to manage this new type of sub-zone excessively curtail public participation in the land management process? Where is the balance between sensible development and protection of the environment?

We currently have a situation in which a small and vocal minority can completely derail the process, that even reasonable development is blocked. A situation where only extraordinarily well funded organizations can accomplish anything. Then only with a stunning amount of wasted resources and effort along the way.

Proposed Legislation

There are quite a few different bills proposed for this session of the Hawaii legislature that address astronomy and Mauna Kea. Of the more interesting there are proposals for an independant manangement body for the mauna, 4WD drive access to Mauna Kea and Waipio valley, addressing light pollution, and an audit of OMKM.

Mauna Kea Sunrise
Sunrise over Mauna Kea greets me on the morning commute.
As some of these proposals have a direct effect on the mauna and upon me personally I intend to address each of these proposals in blog posts. I also intend to submit testimony on these bills, reading and blogging on them will help.

Just added! (12Feb2018)

As usual for the Hawaii legislature there is occasionally both a house and senate version some of the bills. These must be reconciled in the end as they wend through the rather interesting process our state lege uses. Several of these have passed first reading, the first weeding out of bills in the process for this session.

Countdown to the Eclipse

As I gazed up at a nearly full Moon this evening I realized that the countdown is quite short now. When that Moon is new again it will pass in front of the Sun to create a total solar eclipse.

Luna
The Moon one day short of full.
This will be my first total solar eclipse in nearly four decades. Not since 1979 have I witnessed a total eclipse. Over those decades I have seen many partial eclipses, quite a few lunar eclipses, a few transits of Mercury, and one transit of Venus.

I have been anticipating and planning this trip for many years. It was after the transit of Venus in 2012 that I really turned my attention to the next major astro-event. Laying out plans to camp somewhere in Eastern Oregon where the viewing is likely to be excellent.

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Out in the Dark with HPA

Where do you go to show a bunch of students from Hawaii Preparatory Academy the stars? Located in Waimea the school has a very nice campus, that is usually under heavy clouds every afternoon and evening. After looking around we settled on Mauna Kea Recreation Area in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. At 6,700ft elevation the site can offer very good skies for stargazing. This area in the saddle at Pōhakuloa is often cloud free, a curious hole in the clouds between the mauna that tower on either side.

HPA Students and the 20" Obsession telescope
Students and chaperones from HPA enjoy dark skies with the 20″ obsession telescope
The recreation area has recently been undergoing a 10 million dollar renovation. While the renovated cabins are not open yet, the new bathrooms and playground have proven immensely popular to travellers crossing the saddle from Hilo to Kona.

With the opportunity for a reasonably dark sky I brought the 20″ obsession. Tony and Maureen brought 12″ dobs. Tony’s friend Steve brough the 8″ he had just bought from Tony, a first night out with a new ‘scope. Cliff brought his 6″ imaging system set up to show objects on the screen. We had a lot of glass available, good telescopes, and surprisingly good skies.

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The Sky for 2017

Looking ahead to 2017 it appears that the skies will be kind to us this coming year. We have good meteor showers, a total eclipse of the Sun, a bright comet or two, and the usual planetary conjunctions to look forward to. Below you will find some on my notes to what we can look forward to during the coming year.

Jupiter 14Apr2016
Jupiter on April 15, 2016, stack of the best 2000 frames of 7600, Celestron NS11GPS at f/20 and Canon 60D
As is my practice I have spent more than a few evenings loading up DarkerView with scheduled posts for the year. Well over a hundred posts are set as reminders for the interesting astronomical events for 2017. It is a useful effort, as I can see for myself what the year will bring and begin my planning.

Covered are elongations for Mercury and Venus, interesting conjunctions, oppositions, eclipses and meteor showers. Posts include notes for visibility in the Hawaiian islands for those events that are location dependent.

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