Mars Close Approach

Mars during the 2005 opposition
Mars during the 2005 opposition
Today the planet Mars will be at its closest point to the Earth.

Mars was at opposition two days ago, but not at its closest. Close approach of the two planets is not necessarily on the same day as opposition, but can vary up to two weeks. This year sees the two planets approaching to 99,331,411 km (61,721,554 miles) at 07:01HST. At this distance the red planet will show a disk 13.89″ arc-seconds across in the eyepiece.

All month Mars will be visible throughout the night, high in the sky at midnight. This is the time to enjoy observing our closest neighboring planet while it is nearby and high in the night sky.

Mercury at Maximum Elongation

Today Mercury reaches maximum elongation, the furthest point it will reach from the Sun in the sky and the highest it will be above the sunset this apparition. The planet is easily visible as a bright, starlike object about 15° above the setting Sun as the sky grows dark. Over the next couple weeks Mercury will slide back into the sunset, heading for inferior conjunction on Mar 21.

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End of an Island Legend

Jack Thompson’s house has become something of an island legend. When the rest of the development burned beneath the lava his house was spared. For three decades the lava has repeatedly run past the house. East and west there was nothing but lava fields, around the house lush Puna jungle created an island amongst the devastation.

Jack’s luck has finally run out, madame Pele claiming the last house in the Royal Gardens subdivision.

You can get the whole story, along with a set of photos at Leigh’s Hawai’i Lava Daily blog. Leigh was there for the last hours, photographing the lava, and helping Jack remove a few last belongings when the time came to take the last helicopter out.

Jack Thompson's House and the Lava
A lava flow approaching Jack Thompson's House, photo by Leigh Hilbert, used with permission

Employment Opportunity at Keck – Human Resources Generalist

W. M. Keck Observatory Position Announcement

Human Resources Generalist

Under the general supervision of the Human Resources & Administration Manager, the Human Resources Generalist (HRG) provides a wide variety of both complex and routine administrative services. The HRG position is dedicated to providing assistance to departments and employees in the review and processing of transactions related to recruitment, benefits, compensation, absences and resignations. Also assists with various aspects of the HRIS integration and maintenance project as well as other HR related projects.

The observatory operates two of the largest and most scientifically productive optical/infrared telescopes in the world. The twin 10-meter telescopes are located amidst several other world class observatories on the summit of Mauna Kea, at 13,796 feet above sea level on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the premier sites for astronomy. Our headquarters is located in Waimea, at 2,500 feet above sea level.

Required: Bachelor’s degree and five years of hands-on HR experience in personnel related processes in functional areas including; benefits, classification/compensation, employment and personnel records management. Must possess strong communication skills. Preferred degree in Human Resources Management, Business Administration or Industrial Relations.

This position requires you to submit your resume on-line at: http://keckobservatory.iapplicants.com/ViewJob-279721.html with your cover letter that states why you are uniquely qualified for the position.

Additional information about WMKO and this position may be found on our website at www.keckobservatory.org EEO Employer

When the Seeing is Bad

Last week I shot a little video of Mars and Saturn in an attempt to get some nice imagery of these planets. Mars is approaching opposition and Saturn is well placed in the sky for observation. It appeared at first as if the seeing was pretty good, but reviewing the video shows that there were issues.

The results? No so good actually. The Mars shot shows no detail beyond the polar cap, the Saturn shot is marginally better, but still nothing I am happy with. The imagery was taken with the Canon 60D in crop movie mode, and the C11 telescope operating at f/10. I spent some time tweaking the collimation, that looked looked fairly good. The video? The resulting material is not so good, I suspect the main cause of the poor results was seeing, some variant of high frequency distortion blurring the fine details.

There may also be some issues with the new version of Registax. Version 6 has some major differences in how it operates, not sure if I am doing everything right. The program may have some bugs as well, I crashed it several times while attempting to process the imagery.

Saturn
Saturn, C11 and Canon 60D, best 800 of 1200 frames processes in registax

Mars Opposition

Mars during the 2005 opposition
Mars during the 2005 opposition
Today the planet Mars will pass through opposition.

Closest approach of the two planets is not necessarily on the same day as opposition, but can vary up to two weeks. This year closest approach will occur March 5th with the two planets approaching to 99,331,411 km (61,721,554 miles) at 07:01HST. At this distance the red planet will show a disk 13.89″ arc-seconds across in the eyepiece.

All month Mars will be visible throughout the night, high in the sky at midnight. This is the time to enjoy observing our closest neighboring planet while it is nearby and high in the night sky.

A Cautionary Tale

At Keck we regularly move pieces of glass up to two meters across and weighing hundreds of pounds. These optics are nearly irreplaceable, visions of catastrophic damage to one of these pieces of glass is the stuff of nightmares. An observatory is built around the telescope, hundreds of tons of steel supporting the all important optics. While damage of any sort is a concern, much of the critical equipment can be repaired without major issue. It is the optics that are much harder and more expensive to replace. While these pieces of glass could be re-manufactured, it would probably take a year or more to accomplish.

Damaged Secondary
Damage to the Cerro Tololo Victor Blanco 4m f/8 Secondary. Image credit: CTIO
Last week the unthinkable happened at the Cerro Tololo Victor Blanco 4m Telescope in Chile. A secondary mirror was being removed from the telescope when the handling cart tipped over and injured two workers. Fortunately the injuries were not very serious. The secondary? It suffered severe damage, a 20cm crater in the front surface.

At Keck we had recently undertaken a full review of our optics handling procedures. Every step of the process, every piece of equipment was subject to scrutiny. The procedures reviewed by a committee of internal and external reviewers. The goal was to prevent just this sort of incident, to protect our invaluable glass.

Photos of the damaged CTIO secondary and descriptions of the incident are a powerful example of what can go wrong. Something that will be in the back of everyone’s mind next time we are moving a piece of big glass.

Venus and Jupiter

Tonight the two brightest planets in the sky will be almost exactly 3° apart. Jupiter will be shining at a brilliant -2.1 magnitude, even that will be outshone by Venus at an even more brilliant -4.3 magnitude. At 3° separation the pair will fit together in the field of a pair of binoculars or a rich-field telescope. If you miss tonight the pair will remain close for several nights, only 3°11′ apart tomorrow night, and 3°34′ apart on March 15th.

Take a look, it will be hard to miss these two brilliant planets high in the evening sky.

Kohala Dive Operations

Most of the Kona side dive operations operate out of Honokohau Harbor, giving access to dive sites from Kailua Bay to well north of the airport. These are the operations most divers visiting the Big Island are familiar with. The diving is good around Honokohau, but can be limited, island divers know that the character of the reef is different as you move north or south.

Experienced divers will often recommend diving the Puako and North Kohala reefs. Here the shoreline is notably older, where the volcanoes have not sent lava flows into the sea for many thousands of years. The reefs have had much longer to establish themselves, resulting in heavier coral growth and rich sea life.

If you want to try the sites further north, along the Kohala Coast, you need to choose another outfit to dive with. Two local dive ops operate along the Kohala coast, Blue Wilderness and Kohala Divers. Both outfits are small businesses, locally owned and operated, the owners often on the boat with you.

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