A Moonlit Night at Kaʻohe

It was Norman who started it.

The last glow of Sunset over Hualālai, with Venus just about to set behind the mauna and Jupiter high above.
The last glow of Sunset over Hualālai, with Venus just about to set behind the mauna and Jupiter high above.

An innocent email… Anyone interested in a star party this weekend?

Last weekend’s new Moon star party had been a bust, heavy clouds overhead were a disappointment to those of us waiting for a good dark night.

Given the positive response to Norman’s email there seems to be a few folks ready to go despite a bright Moon in the sky. With the weather looking good the Saturday afternoon email flurry showed that a few folks were going, thus I joined in.

As per Mauna Kea normal I drove through the clouds, heavy fog on Saddle Road just a mile from Kaʻohe made the trip seem hopeless. But as I neared the turn I suddenly found myself above the clouds, the bright Moon high over Hualalai.

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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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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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WHAC Monthly Meeting

The West Hawai’i Astronomy Club Meeting is nearly upon us. As a reminder we will be at CFHT Headquarters this month. We have a guest speaker this month, so it should be a good evening…

Decoding starlight with infrared spectroscopy: Finding water in places where planets might form around new stars
Greg Doppmann, Keck Observatory
7:00pm, Feb 14th

Greg Doppmann is recent transplant to the Big Island, now working at the Keck Observatory as a Support Astronomer. He received his professional training in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to research, Greg was also active in infrared instrumentation for the McDonald Observatory while at Texas. After graduating in 2002, he took a postdoc position at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In 2004, Greg moved down to La Serena Chile and became an instrument scientist at the Gemini Observatory. More recently, he was a member of the scientific staff at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson for 5 years before moving to Hawaii.

His current research interests are focused on star formation, where he uses large telescopes with infrared spectrometers to measure physical properties of young stars that are embedded within nearby star forming clouds. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, cycling, gardening, and flying.