Mauna Kea Messier Marathon March 12

We are good to go! I have the DLNR permit for using the site. We will hold the Mauna Kea Messier Marathon 2016 on the evening of March 12 at the Ka’ohe observing site.

GyPSy in the Night
The 11″ NexStar GPS telescope, GyPSy set up at Ka’Ohe
Sunset: 18:31 HST
Astronomical twilight ends: 19:44 HST
Astronomical twilight begins: 05:19 HST
Sunrise: 06:32 HST

Please arrive before sunset so as not to annoy other observers with lights and dust, allowing a few extra minutes to find the setup site. This will provide plenty of time to set up gear and have a picnic dinner. I hope to be at the site around 5:30pm. I will sign the group in at the check-in station with the permit number, you need not sign in.

For those who wish to marathon I will have a checklist available for the effort. There are a lot of MM checklists, the one I provide is optimized for our 20N latitude which changes the priority of the evening and morning objects. If you do not want to participate, just come to observe.

If you are participating in the MM I would also suggest a low-power, wide field instrument. Smaller telescopes are actually better at this pursuit than larger. For MM I leave the 18″ at home and bring a 6″ telescope. Any finding aids are acceptable, including GOTO. If you are a purist like me? I will use nothing but a chart and a Telrad to locate the objects.

The site is to be found along the old Saddle Road just above the Kilohana hunter check in station. There is a line of pine trees a couple hundred yards above the gate, I plan to set up on the makai side of the trees where you will find a large flat area and a big pile of gravel stockpiled. A precise location and Google map for the Ka’ohe site can be found here.

A reminder that the DLNR permit has a few restrictions, nothing we would not do anyway… No open flame, no hunting, and please keep the area clean.

Now all we need is clear weather for a successful Marathon!

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.

A Winter Star Party

In Arizona, during the heat of summer we would head for the mountains. We knew dozens of fire roads and meadows where a telescope could be set up under the stars among the cool forest pines. When the weather chilled, we headed to the low desert, our favorite site was Sentinel, Arizona. A desolate volcanic field just off Interstate 8 between Gila Bend and Yuma. It was still cool at night, a beautiful place to enjoy the desert skies…

Deep Violet at Sentinel
Deep Violet at Sentinel, Arizona for the 2015 Pierre Schwarr Star Gaze

A Star Party for WHEA

They got lucky.

Cliff Livermore
Cliff setup and ready for viewers at WHEA.
I often caution folks scheduling star parties in Kona that the afternoon and evening clouds will often spoil the attempt. The large Hualalai volcano is the culprit here. In the afternoon the clouds form in the lee of the mountain and give Kona the afternoon showers that nourish the rich rainforest found on the upper slopes.

We try anyway.

WHEA, or West Hawaii Explorations Academy is a charter school located in the NELHA complex just north of Kona and just south of the airport. They concentrate on science, mostly marine science, with an outdoor hands-on curricula. Large pavilions serve as additional classrooms. The campus is littered with evidence of various projects, from large pools, various gardens, and a phalanx of handmade cargo pallet catapults in the back.

Maureen Salmi
Maureen using her big dob at WHEA.
The school was having an overnight camp-out on campus, providing a large crowd of students wanting a look through a telescope.

There were some clouds to hamper us, but nothing that would obscure the view for more than a minute or two. A nearly full moon, just a few days shy of this week’s eclipse, was beautiful in the telescope. We also had Saturn, still available in the evening sky at the head of Scorpio. As the evening passed so did the clouds, thinning to a few wisps across the sky.

Maureen was there with her big dob. Chris and Doris with the C-14, Brad with his twin refractor that shows the Moon beautifully. Cliff set up the C-11 giving us five telescopes in all, plenty of eyepieces to supply visions to waiting eyes. I need to spend a little time working on our NextStar GPS 11″, the motor control issue is back, I was running in manual mode much of the evening.

We gazed at the terrain of the Moon and I showed kids, and a few teachers, how to take photos with a cell phone through the eyepiece. A good school star party and a well spent Friday evening. Even if it did take half an hour for the security guard to arrive to open the gate and let us leave. There were also too many chocolate chip cookies available.

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.

A Lecture and a Star Party

If you did not make a point to come to the last Keck lecture you missed a fun night.

Greg Doppmann
Keck astronomer Greg Doppmann lecturing on the spectra of planet forming disks
Our regular free lecture featured one of Keck’s own this month. Greg Doppmann gave a very informative talk on using one of the Keck spectrographs, NIRSPEC, to examine the inner planet forming disks around young stars. In the near infrared it is possible to determine the presence of water and organic compounds in the material that rocky world may form from.

Greg did a very nice job of explaining spectroscopy. this is never easy, the details can get pretty technical. Making sense of spectra while talking to a general audience is a neat accomplishment. This is even worse when you are talking about the spectra of water in the near infrared where there are thousands of emission lines. Good graphics and a step by step explanation worked, animations of dancing water molecules, and dancing Greg not withstanding.

Waiting for Tony
Tony with a large line of folks waiting to see Jupiter in his 12″ ‘scope
After the lecture everyone was able to enjoy great views of the Moon and Jupiter through telescopes set up by our astronomy club. We got lucky, the notoriously fickle Waimea weather gave us a break. At the start of the lecture is was raining, not hard, just the usual Waimea mist. As Greg’s lecture wound down I ducked outside to be greeted by a bright Moon and no clouds. Somewhat stunned I hurried back inside to give the thumbs up to the crew, who scrambled to setup the ‘scopes before the Q&A session ended.

When the crowd poured out we were ready. A lot of folks stayed to view, and five ‘scopes were in operation to meet them. I have to give thanks to Tony, Chris, Rickey, Cliff, Bernt, and Purcynth, who manned the scopes and answered the flood of questions. As we were breaking down the clouds were rolling back in, very good timing indeed.

The lecture was recorded and should show up on the Keck website soon. I’ll try to post a link to it when it does appear. In the meantime, if you have not already done so, get your email on the Keck Nation list so you know about these events before they happen.

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
7:00pm
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.