Solar System Walk 2016

Walking from the Sun to Neptune is easy… At least when they are set up in a scale model along main street Waimea.

A fun day… The Sun, telescopes, the planets, a few asteroids represented by meteorites, and plenty of activities for the kids. It was a great day to be in Waimea as CFHT and Keck put on the Solar System Walk 2016…

Dear Keck Staff

We have a lot of fun when the kids come to visit. We regularly offer tours of Keck to local school groups. When they come we lay in a schedule of activities… Solar telescopes, an IR camera demonstration, tours of our remote operations, the activities can vary depending on the grade level.

After the last tour we got a packet of thank you letters from one of the classes. These are just fun to read, it is great to see what the kids remember from their visit. A drawing of telescopes set up in the lawn caught my eye, I was responsible for running the solar telescope activity!

Dear Keck Staff
A thank you letter from a student after a tour of Keck Observatory

Laupāhoehoe Charter School Star Party

It was a great school star party.

Setting Up the 'Scopes
Preparing for the crowd at Laupāhoehoe Charter School
I worry a bit about helping out with a school star party sometimes. When I drum up a few volunteers and telescopes for an event I wonder if we will have clear skies and a good audience. These great guys are coming because I asked them. Will it be worth the effort of the volunteers to pack a ‘scope and drive across the island?

Nothing is more frustrating than a crowd of kids wanting to see through the telescope and all you can show them is the bottom of a cloud. I was worrying again as I left Waimea under a solid overcast. Maybe it will be better on the other side of the island? My fear is justified by past experience, the windward side is often cloudy or even rainy in the evening. Arriving at Honokaʻa it was still overcast, maybe down the coast? Over Laupāhoehoe it was clear! How can this be? We got really lucky.

The next worry was the crowd. While setting up there were a dozen telescopes but only a handful of folks waiting for us. But as it got dark the people kept arriving, a steady stream of students and families. A large area of blankets appeared, covering the playing field. William and the other organizers had done a great job of putting out the message to the community, we had a great crowd.

With a quarter Moon we had a good target even before it got dark. Better yet, there were no lights on the field and only a small town below us. After the light faded it was pretty dark on the field, dark enough to show nebulae and star clusters in all their glory.

I spent much of the evening on the Orion Nebula. It looked great in the ‘scope and I could tell the tale of star formation occurring in the clouds of gas visible in the eyepiece. I took a few iPhone photos of the Moon, demonstrating how it was done. The quarter phase was revealing great topography along the terminator.

In the end my worries were for naught. Everything went very well. A lot of happy kids and parents, presented with a good view of our endlessly fascinating universe.

Kealakehe HS Star Party

I was just a bit surprised… A clear sky over Kealakehe High School in the evening. This almost never happens, usually the lee side of Hualalai is a mass of clouds in the late afternoon and evening. There is only one thing to conclude… We got lucky.

Kealakehe Star Party
Cliff sets up his 24″ scope on the next target.
Actually is was the families and students attending the Kealakehe STEM Camp who got lucky. With clear skies we were able to show the hundreds of parents and students the stars, planets, and the Moon in the telescopes. I really did not think it would happen, I was clear enough in South Kohala, but as I drove down the coast I could see the big nimbus clouds over Kona. As it grew dark the clouds dissipated and the stars appeared, we were going to have a star party.

We had five scopes, from Charlie’s 80mm refractor to a Cliff”s 24″ dob. Add Tony’s 14″ dob, Keck support astronomer Hein with the observatory’s 8″ outreach telescope, and myself with the usual 11″ Nexstar I use for outreach. (Thanks guys!!) It was a big crowd, every telescope was in business with lines of folks waiting to see. The event was hosted by a high school, but the students attending this evening were of all ages. The whole family was there to enjoy the night, little brothers and sisters, and mom and dad taking turns at the eyepiece to view.

Kealakehe Star Party
Tony’s 14″ dob with a long line of folks waiting to view, Charlie with his refractor at right
Under clearing skies we had a great selection of stuff to look at… Jupiter is still high enough in the evening sky to observe, Mars is high overhead, and Saturn was rising. Add a first quarter Moon and we had plenty of bright targets. The streetlights of the high school campus were bright, but with bright planets and the Moon to view we had no problems.

As we waited for it to get dark and for the clouds to break, I did my “On-Sky” talk about Keck to a cafeteria with a couple hundred kids and parents. The talk is designed for a general audience, and has improved with repetition. Judging by the non-stop questions it was going over well, giving folks a glimpse into the daily operation of the observatory.

A fun evening, the best sort of astronomy outreach… A crowd of folks enjoying the night, a little education mixed with fun. A chance to explain what we at Keck do to our local community.

Star Party at CFHT

Join us at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope headquarters in Waimea for a public star party. We will have telescopes setup in the front lawn for everyone to enjoy and activities inside. View through the telescopes, visit the CFHT remote observing room where the telescope is controlled, fun activities for the keiki, and hot cocoa!

Mr. O's Stars
Mr. O shows a family the stars at Kohala Elementary
We will be viewing right after the annual Waimea Christmas parade.

CFHT Star Party
Saturday, December 7th
CFHT Headquarters in Waimea (Across from Waimea Elementary)

Remember that main-street Waimea will be closed at 5:15pm for the parade. Come view the stars while you wait for the parade traffic to clear.

Keck Astronomy Talk – The Search for Other Earths

Join us for a free astronomy lecture at Waimea’s Kahilu Theater…

Artist impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. Credit: Karen Teramura (UH/IfA)
The Search for Other Earths
Andrew Howard – University of Hawai’i

Kahilu Theatre
Thursday November 21, 2013
07:00 pm – 08:00 pm

Andrew Howard, astronomer from the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, will give an illuminating talk about the hunt for exoplanets and the quest for another Earth. Since 1995, more than 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered. Many of these planets look nothing like the planets of our Solar System — strange orbits, unusual compositions, and unknown beginnings. Dr. Howard will tour this diverse landscape of exoplanets, including the recent discoveries of planets the size of Earth.

AstroDay 2013

It was fun. It is always fun!

AstroDay 2013
AstroDay 2013!
It is AstroDay, a chance for all of the observatories to do a little community outreach.

Prince Kuhio Plaza is the largest mall on the island. Perhaps small by large city standards it is still the focal point of shopping in Hilo. The observatories and a few other organizations use tables all through the branches of the mall. In the center of it all is a stage with live music, giveaways and other activities for the crowd. The whole thing is a great family day and a great outreach opportunity.

Continue reading “AstroDay 2013”


It will soon be time to head for Hilo to enjoy AstroDay 2013! This year AstroDay will be May 4th, join us at the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo for a celebration of astronomy and culture. The Mauna Kea observatories will fill the mall with exhibits, activities and entertainment. The action will run from 10am to 4pm. And yes, Keck will have a booth this year, with real exhibits!

AstroDay 2013
AstroDay 2013!

Halloween Sidewalk Astronomy

For many years it has been my tradition to setup a telescope on Halloween. A tradition I have inherited from other amateur astronomers, a tradition I intend to continue.

Princess at the Telescope
A Halloween princess looking through the telescope while we were set up at the King’s Shops
Unfortunately there are few trick-or-treaters in my own neighborhood. We are somewhat at the end of the street and at the top of the hill.

Looking for an alternative to setting up in the driveway, as I have in the past, I instead arranged to setup at the King’s Shops in the resort at the bottom of the hill. The shops make an evening of it, with various entertainment and activities arranged for children and adults. Contacting the Kings Shops management I was able to arrange permission to set up a few telescopes for the evening.

Cliff and Maureen volunteered to join me, bringing more gear. We had a few other club folks drop by. Also helping out were Dean and Melinda Ketelsen, fellow Tucsonans who share the Halloween telescope tradition and happen to be visiting for the week.

Unfortunately clouds hampered us in the early evening. As usual these cleared as the night progressed so that by 8:30pm we had a mostly clear sky. Moonrise provided a beautiful view, followed by Jupiter. There was a steady flow of folks checking out the telescopes. Princesses, Batman, ninjas and more had views of Alberio, Andromeda and other celestial objects. A fun evening for everyone, mixing in just a bit of science education, just what sidewalk astronomy is all about.

Walk through the Solar System

A scale model of the solar system, laid out along Mamalahoa Highway through the center of Waimea. That is what we create every year for the Waimea Solar System Walk.

Starting on the lawn of Keck Observatory headquarters you can walk from the Sun to the outer solar system at the Canada France Hawai’i Telescope headquarters. Four and a half billion kilometers reduced to one kilometer (2.8 billion miles to about 1/2 mile). At this scale the Earth becomes a the size of a small bead and Jupiter a marble. Walking a model like this give a whole new appreciation for the scale of our solar system, driving home the idea that space is really, really big.

Dozens of kids and parents took advantage of the event to learn a bit about space and astronomy. Starting at the Sun they could wander from the inner solar system to the outer solar system. Passports handed out at Keck HQ were stamped at each planet along the way as the tour and each planet was manned by volunteers to answer questions.

Against the odds, it was a pretty nice day in Waimea. The characteristic strong winds and blowing drizzle was absent. We had sunny skies and when the wind died away in the afternoon, it became somewhat hot. This allowed for great views through the solar telescopes and nice conditions to stroll the length of the main street.

The experience was aided by volunteers who came in from organizations across the island, each bringing some educational fun to the planet walk. Nancy Tashima from the Onizuka Center covered Mercury, using some great material from the MESSENGER mission including 3D photos and glasses.

Gary Fujihara brought a splendid collection of meteorites. Using the asteroid belt as his home base to educate folks about the many minor bodies in the solar system and the material that falls to Earth.

Keck and CFHT staff put everything together and manned most of the booths. Members of the West Hawai’i Astronomy club helped out at registration and brought solar telescopes to view our Sun. Given clear skies in Waimea the view was fantastic. There were several good sunspots and wonderful prominences to be seen. It was great to see all those who volunteered their Saturday to help out.

A lot of smiling faces to be seen as kids and parents explored our solar system and learned. Always nice when you can slip a little knowledge in with the fun.