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
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.

Oregon Star Party 2013 Photo Album