It is a subdued Fourth of July around the island. Most large scale gatherings are still cancelled such as the annual 4th of July Rodeo at Parker Ranch. There will be some official fireworks in Hilo and Kona, but Deb and I are not planning to attend.
It remains to be seen how many illegal fireworks there are in the neighborhood, something I have usually considered a local measure of economic optimism. Given the oddness of the year I suspect that will not be a good proxy this year. Nothing is predictable this year.
There have been rumors of shortages in supply as well, maybe the reason for some loud bangs in the neighborhood over the last week… Improvised fireworks or more illegal imports?
A good evening to reflect on history, where we have been, and where we might be headed. Celebration will remain quiet and introspective, in this household at least.
Every night, all over the world, people look up at the sky and wonder about the distant stars. Here in Hawaii we have the privilege of looking up at a very dark sky, but even here with the naked eye we can only see a few thousand stars. This is mainly because of the small size of the lens in our eye, which limits the amount of light it can gather, and also limits the detail we can see for those incredibly distant objects.
This week we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of first light on the Keck I telescope, an event that started the process that has made Hawaii today the best-known place on earth for scientific discovery in astronomy, and the Keck Observatory the home of the two most scientifically productive telescopes on earth.
First light, the first time light from the night sky is focused into an image by a telescope, is a very special event for the community of people required to build and use them, accompanied by a nearly mystical sensation as it culminates years of dedication to completing the project and bringing the Universe a little closer to all humankind.
Since the invention of the telescope 400 years ago, we have been looking at the sky in with much bigger manmade eyes, seeking to learn more and more about our Universe. This has been possible because we have been able to build larger and larger telescopes. For a time telescopes were developed with either lenses or mirrors, but the understanding of telescope design improved, telescopes using mirrors became the choice for larger telescopes. In 1977 the largest telescope on earth was the Hale telescope at Mount Palomar, with a mirror 5 meters in diameter. Astronomers at the University of California knew that their research was reaching the limit of what could be done with the Hale and smaller telescopes, and so they started a project to design and build a 10 meter telescope. This was a very ambitious goal, since even the Hale was known to have limited performance because of the tendency of its mirror to change shape as the telescope was pointed at different places in the sky.