Science Images are Ugly

One of the questions that comes up often enough is what do the pictures look like? And that question is followed by… Where can I see them.

A raw widefield 1.2um NIRC2 image of Jupiter taken 21July2006, credit Imke de Pater, UC Berkeley
A raw widefield 1.2μm NIRC2 image of Jupiter taken 21July2006, credit Imke de Pater, UC Berkeley

The problem… Science data is usually pretty ugly.

Keep in mind that the astronomers are often pushing the telescopes and instruments right to the limit. This means that the data is barely there, a trickle of photons that have come from unimaginably distant sources.

I have been in the observing room as the data comes in. I have watched over the telescope operator’s shoulder. It is strange to see folks so excited over a smudge.

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New Moon at Kaʻohe

It was a very nice night, clear dark skies and bright stars.

Andrew and Maureen observing at Kaʻohe
Andrew and Maureen observing at Kaʻohe

A usual the club’s dark sky star party was held this month at Kaʻohe. After two months of poor weather I was ready for a good night out with a telescope. A few others were too, and joined the club out in the dark.

Arriving at the site there was a thin cloud deck overhead. With years of experience here I looked up and told Maureen that the clouds would be gone in an hour. It did not even take that long, the clouds dissolved right after sunset, leaving a clear skies before we were finished setting up.

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Mauna Kea Rules… Take 2

After last year’s debacle that occurred when trying to introduce administrative rules for public and commercial access to Mauna Kea, the University of Hawaii is back with a heavily revised version.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

How bad were the original version of the rules? In many areas they seemed to be badly thought out, with language far too expansive. Even a cursory reading reveals that the rules were not reviewed by someone familiar with some of the technical language used. Many of the proposed rules would have created safety issues, or even devoid of common sense.

It does appear that they actually listened to the criticism that was received in written form and at the public hearings. Many of the complete gaffes have been removed or reasonably revised.

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The Island Sky for 2019

2019 is looking to be a pretty ordinary year for events, with a few decent events to look forward to. The highlights will be a sunset total lunar eclipse on January 20th, the η-Aquariids meteor shower in early May, a transit of Mercury in November, and a nice set of planetary conjunctions in the sunset and sunrise.

Awaiting dark with the 20" telescope
Andrew Unger beside the 20″ Obsession while waiting for properly dark skies at Kaʻohe

There are dozens of posts scheduled here on DarkerView to remind my readers of these and many more events before they occur. Frankly, I need the reminder myself. Stay tuned for all of the great events the sky of 2019 will offer us.

The remainder of this post is a quick summary of the events our sky has to offer in 2019.

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A Good Night at Kaʻohe

I have had to cancel the last three monthly club star parties, three in a row. The February, March and April new Moon star parties did not happen. Yes, the weather this spring has been that bad, just horrible for stargazing. This has affected the large observatories atop the summit, with over 70% of the time lost for March and April.

The 8" Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
The 8″ Cave Astrola setup at Kaʻohe
As the date for this star party approached I checked the forecast and satellite images with apprehension. This actually looks like we might get a clear night.

Which telescope? That decision was already made, I have been looking forward to a dark night with the classic 8″ Cave Astrola since finishing the restoration months ago. Previous attempts another victim of the bad weather. With my vehicle in the shop it took a little disassembly to fit this telescope in my wife’s Honda, but it fit.

Driving up the mountain a cloudless Mauna Kea greeted me, the scene a complete opposite to what I feared. This might actually happen.

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HB1565 Relating to Science and Technology Research

Another proposed bill that has been carried over from the 2017 legislative session is HB1565. The purpose of this bill is to create a conservation district sub-zone category specifically geared to supporting research and technology facilities. The astronomy precinct atop Mauna Kea is identified as such a sub-zone along with seven other sites such as NELHA and the facilities atop Haleakalā.

Sunset Crowd
A crowd of mountain visitors watch sunset around UKIRT

The legislature further finds that research activity brings in millions of dollars that help diversify and stabilize the State’s economy that is heavily dependent on tourism, which is a cyclical industry. A study of research expenditures in the University of Hawaii system alone, not including private or non-university funded federal projects, showed that research activity had an economic impact on business sales of $760,000,000, state taxes of $45,000,000, employee earnings of $275,000,000, and the generation of about seven thousand jobs. – Excerpt from HB1565 proposed legislation for the 2018 Hawaii legislature

The bill would designate specific lands to be used for science and technology facilities. More interestingly the bill specifies a set of rules by which these lands are to be administered and subleases are to be negotiated.

The bill simplifies and streamlines the land use decision process. In the case of opposition to development within a science and technology sub-zone the method of dispute is designated as mediation rather than a contested case hearing.

This bill is certain to be a lightning rod for opponents of astronomy on Mauna Kea and Hakeakula. The opposition will be vehement to say the least. Indeed, it will be interesting to read the opposition commentary.

Ahu
An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with the summit in the background
There is much to consider in this bill… Creating a sub-zone specifically for research facilities is probably a good thing. This recognizes a very specific land use that should have equally specific rules governing the use.

But there remains a question… Does the process specified in this particular bill to manage this new type of sub-zone excessively curtail public participation in the land management process? Where is the balance between sensible development and protection of the environment?

We currently have a situation in which a small and vocal minority can completely derail the process, that even reasonable development is blocked. A situation where only extraordinarily well funded organizations can accomplish anything. Then only with a stunning amount of wasted resources and effort along the way.

Proposed Legislation

There are quite a few different bills proposed for this session of the Hawaii legislature that address astronomy and Mauna Kea. Of the more interesting there are proposals for an independant manangement body for the mauna, 4WD drive access to Mauna Kea and Waipio valley, addressing light pollution, and an audit of OMKM.

Mauna Kea Sunrise
Sunrise over Mauna Kea greets me on the morning commute.
As some of these proposals have a direct effect on the mauna and upon me personally I intend to address each of these proposals in blog posts. I also intend to submit testimony on these bills, reading and blogging on them will help.

Just added! (12Feb2018)

As usual for the Hawaii legislature there is occasionally both a house and senate version some of the bills. These must be reconciled in the end as they wend through the rather interesting process our state lege uses. Several of these have passed first reading, the first weeding out of bills in the process for this session.

Countdown to the Eclipse

As I gazed up at a nearly full Moon this evening I realized that the countdown is quite short now. When that Moon is new again it will pass in front of the Sun to create a total solar eclipse.

Luna
The Moon one day short of full.
This will be my first total solar eclipse in nearly four decades. Not since 1979 have I witnessed a total eclipse. Over those decades I have seen many partial eclipses, quite a few lunar eclipses, a few transits of Mercury, and one transit of Venus.

I have been anticipating and planning this trip for many years. It was after the transit of Venus in 2012 that I really turned my attention to the next major astro-event. Laying out plans to camp somewhere in Eastern Oregon where the viewing is likely to be excellent.

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