A Darker View

Anna Ranch

The main house at Anna Ranch

Often overlooked by tourists driving around the island, Anna Ranch is very much worth the stop. A little piece of island history preserved as it was.

Anna Ranch

The main house at Anna Ranch

At the ranch the paniolo and ranching history of the Waimea area is preserved. The complex of buildings are the heart of a classic Hawaiian ranch. This was the headquarters of a large cattle operation for over a century.

If you catch one of the two daily tours you get to see the interior of the house and hear stories about the history of the ranch. The tour is really the best way to properly visit Anna ranch.

You will hear about the indomitable Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske who ran the ranch through much of the twentieth century. A horsewoman and cattle expert she successfully kept the family ranch profitable, creating the ranch you see today. It was her dream to see the ranch preserved as a heritage center. Now run by a non-profit organization the ranch is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places, and on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the tour you can roam the gardens and the short “Discovery Trail” that leads behind the buildings. Along the trail there are interpretive signs that provide another view into the history of the area. This includes a bit on a historic battle that occurred on the hills behind Waimea.


An enclosed lanai at Anna Ranch

Unfortunately the smithy was not open for our visit. I have always enjoyed watching a blacksmith at work. Nothing like a forge and hot steel, one of the oldest technologies, to catch the fascination of an engineer like myself. I will have to stop in again some time.

The daily tours are conducted at 10am and again at 1pm. The cost is $10/person and reservations are highly recommended. You might find a spot on a tour at last minute, but do not count on it. Otherwise visiting the ranch is free, unless you stop in the little gift shop.

After so many years of driving past, I am glad we stopped in to see this gem of Waimea history.

Guard Crab

A yellow-spotted guard crab (Trapezia flavopunctata) in cauliflower coral

Today Mercury will be at maximum eastern elongation, as high in the evening sky as it will appear for this current apparition. After today the planet will slide back into the sunset, passing through inferior conjunction on January 30th and reappearing in the dawn during the first weeks of February.

Continue reading Mercury at Maximum Elongation…

Computer Room at Night

The Keck 2 computer room glowing with innumerable LED indicators

Some parts of the job are simply fun. Installing the various upgrades to the weather system has been just that. The latest piece of kit being more fun than usual.

Weather Mast

The Keck weather mast with a sonic anemometer at top, MastCam, and the housings for the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors.

We are installing a number of new cameras throughout the facility. Replacing an ancient CCTV system that still uses composite video and black and white monitors. Yeah, that ancient. The system is quite useful, it allows visibility of the telescopes from the operator stations and the manual control panels when you are driving the telescope.

Even that is topped by the camera I installed this fall. The latest camera is a new pan-tilt-zoom camera attached to the weather mast.

The camera does have more prosaic reasons to justify the effort of installing it. With the camera the operators can observe the weather conditions around the telescope, observing supervisors can view the ice and snow on the domes from Waimea, the day crew can check the weather conditions before driving to the summit, and more. The camera does have enough sensitivity to see the brighter stars and the banks of fog that roll over the summit. In full dark and at full gain the image is noisy and faint, not all that great. Given just a little moonlight the performance is much better, allowing visibility of oncoming clouds.

MastCam Ice

Hanging ice blocks the view of MastCam after a severe winter storm on January 4th, 2015

Weather conditions can be extreme on the summit. Last week’s storm being a good example… 100mph sustained winds, 135mph gusts, more than a foot of ice coating any vertical surface and several inches on the ground. The camera is rated to survive such conditions, and has now survived its first major winter storm. Electronic operation is guaranteed by the manufacturer for -40°C, and there is a heater and blower inside the camera dome to remove ice. It was able to melt its way clear, at least partially on the first day, while it took a week to clear the domes for operation.

Even more fun! On Christmas Eve I was contacted by Hawaii News Now for photos of the storm, they were eager to do something about a white Christmas for the evening news. As I had not been to the summit and no one on our crew was up, I simply grabbed some MastCam images and forwarded them. The images were aired in the first couple minutes of the Honolulu evening news!

The camera is not available to the public, it would be too much wear and tear to the pan-tilt mechanism and a huge hog of bandwidth. You have to be inside the Keck network to use, from there it is available to anyone on staff. It has proven quite popular, with many folks using the imagery to check on mountain conditions in the latest bad weather.

Next up, yet more cameras in the dome and even a couple on top of the domes. there is also a precipitation sensor and more in the works for the weather station.

OK, enough fun, back to revising the Keck 2 dome schematics.

My wife noticed the swarm of small objects in the remains of the web. She just did not realize that the little dots were tiny spiders…

Spider Hatch

A hatching of Hawaiian garden spiders (Argiope appensa) on the lainai

Mercury and Venus will be in a close conjunction this evening. While the pair has been drawing closer for the last week, tonight will see them at their closest, about 38′ separation.

Look for the bright planet Venus low in the sunset. Mercury will slightly down and to the north of Venus. A separation of 38′ is just a bit more that the width of the full Moon. Both objects are fairly bright, with Venus shining at -3.9 magnitude and Mercury at -0.7. Bright enough to be quite obvious, the pair will be 17° above the horizon at sunset.

Over the coming week the pair will slightly separate. Mercury will be at maximum elongation on January 14th, after which it will begin its slide back into the sunset.

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Dots show locations of stars in the Keck Observatory spectroscopic survey superimposed on an image of Andromeda. Credit: Claire Dorman/ESA

Dots show locations of stars in the Keck Observatory spectroscopic survey superimposed on an image of Andromeda. Credit: Claire Dorman/ESA

A detailed study of the motions of different stellar populations in Andromeda galaxy by UC Santa Cruz scientists using W. M. Keck Observatory data has found striking differences from our own Milky Way, suggesting a more violent history of mergers with smaller galaxies in Andromeda’s recent past. The findings are being presented on Thursday, January 8, at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

The structure and internal motions of the stellar disk of a spiral galaxy hold important keys to understanding the galaxy’s formation history. The Andromeda galaxy, also called M31, is the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way and the largest in the local group of galaxies.

“In the Andromeda galaxy we have the unique combination of a global yet detailed view of a galaxy similar to our own. We have lots of detail in our own Milky Way, but not the global, external perspective,” said Puragra Guhathakurta, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The new study, led by UC Santa Cruz graduate student Claire Dorman and Guhathakurta, combined data from two large surveys of stars in Andromeda conducted at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii as well as data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Continue reading Comprehensive Andromeda Study Hints of Violent History…

The storm that deposited a heavy layer of ice on Mauna Kea has kept Keck Observatory shuttered for a week now. The last night we observed was New Year’s Day. Despite clear skies, there was just too much ice on the domes that could come crashing in on the telescope if we attempted to open. For a few days the Keck II dome was frozen in place by a pile of solid ice against the lower skirt.

We just got word that day crew, with a little solar help, has cleared the worst of the ice from the domes and we will be observing tonight.

Heavy Ice

Ice on the Keck 2 dome ladders after the New Year’s storm of 2015