It was a clear predawn sky that greeted Waimea this morning, perfect to watch the transit of Mercury across the Sun.
An alarm set for o-dark-thirty and a drive to Waimea with the first glow of dawn behind the mauna. I did not have to pack a ‘scope as I would be using an observatory outreach telescope, just make sure I have camera gear ready.
Realistically I was expecting only a few folks in addition to the club members I knew were coming. A light crowd maybe? Thus I was rather surprised to find the parking lot filling quickly and our big conference room buzzing at 6am.
It was quite the crowd considering the Sun had not yet appeared over the shoulder of the mauna!Continue reading “Mercury Transit 2019”
With the transit of Mercury on Monday a reminder on how to view the Sun safely is in order. I have posted on this subject many times in the past and maintain a full post on the various techniques one can use to safely view the Sun.
Since Mercury is quite small you will want a bit of magnification to view the event properly. If you do not have a good solar filter for your telescope come to a local event where telescopes are available.
On Hawaiʻi island you can either go to the W. M. Keck Observatory HQ in Waimea or Subaru Observatory HQ in Hilo. Both observatories are hosting transit events at dawn Monday morning 11 Nov, 2019.
These events start at 6am with webcasts of the transit from other observatories further east, with the Sun rising far enough to see the transit from 7-8am.
While much of the island focused on events taking place on the slopes of Mauna Kea, we had a better plan for Monday evening… Take some activities, and a couple telescopes out to a local library and share the sky with anyone who came.
We planned to bring a presentation and activities to the Kohala library. While the gals presented inside we had a couple telescopes setup outside the front door for anyone to enjoy. Thus is was a team of four… Shelly, Kelleen, Scott, and myself that arrived at the library about 5pm.
The drive over the Kohala on the mountain road is often pretty in the late afternoon. This day was no exception, the afternoon lighting the rolling green hills, Haleakala on Maui looming directly ahead of me as I drove.
I do worry about setting up a star party in Kohala as the weather is notoriously fickle and heavy rain squalls can sweep off the ocean very quickly. I was greeted by nearly clear skies, a pleasant surprise that bode well for the evening.Continue reading “Kohala Skies”
When travelling to an eclipse, one solar filter is not enough. I need a backup!
This is particularly true as my primary filter is a Baader film filter. While a very nice and effective filter, it is also very thin film, and easily damaged. Thus I have borrowed a second filter (Thanks Chris!), the borrowed filter being an Orion E-Series Safety Film filter.
Having the two filters available for use mean I must choose between them when the moment is critical. Which is better? Some testing is in order to find out.
The two filters appear very different, the thin silver film of the Baader quite different than the thicker black polymer film of the Orion filter. Both filters are safe to use and provide decent solar viewing. Both provided pleasing solar images using my Televue 76mm APO telescope at low and medium power.
Stepping beyond basic use I do find that they perform quite differently. So differently I felt some notes are in order.
In the ten years I have lived on island I have never missed an AstroDay. This year was no change to that streak, I volunteered to do the last shift on the Keck Observatory table, 2-4pm. Show up at lunchtime, enjoy the activities myself for a while, say hi to everyone I know there, then do my shift on the table… Good plan.
We were using a thermal camera for our primary activity. Instead of borrowing the fancy, and very expensive, FLIR camera from the summit, our outreach group has bought one of the little iPad thermal cameras from Seek Thermal.
I was pleasantly surprised with this little thermal camera, it does a nice job costing only a few hundred dollars. Using the iPad linked to a large display using AirPlay the setup worked quite well in practice. I could handle the camera with no wires to tether me to one place.
It was a last minute request. OK, not actually the last minute, but two days is not much lead time to plan a public outreach event.
Fortunately there was not much to arrange, a single solar telescope and the standard table setup we keep packed and ready to go, all we had to do was show up. Drive up to the Pōhakuloa Training Area to join in their Earth Day events. There would be several hundred students from local schools, tables and displays from other organizations, a good outreach opportunity.
In ten years of driving past the front gates of PTA, I had never been inside. Why not, just an easy drive from Waikoloa, and I have a telescope that will do the job perfectly.
It seems odd that a military base would celebrate Earth Day. What do attack helicopters, live munitions, and troops have to do with the environment? The answer should not be that surprising… Military bases are often large effective nature reserves.
Large areas of land, much of which sits unused and undisturbed, are closed to public access. An active range needs huge safety and buffer zones around the firing ranges. Of the 133,000 acres that makes up PTA, only a small percentage is directly impacted by the training activities. The rest is home to a endemic and endangered species, closed to any activity that can disturb the land.
Where do you go to show a bunch of students from Hawaii Preparatory Academy the stars? Located in Waimea the school has a very nice campus, that is usually under heavy clouds every afternoon and evening. After looking around we settled on Mauna Kea Recreation Area in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. At 6,700ft elevation the site can offer very good skies for stargazing. This area in the saddle at Pōhakuloa is often cloud free, a curious hole in the clouds between the mauna that tower on either side.
The recreation area has recently been undergoing a 10 million dollar renovation. While the renovated cabins are not open yet, the new bathrooms and playground have proven immensely popular to travellers crossing the saddle from Hilo to Kona.
With the opportunity for a reasonably dark sky I brought the 20″ obsession. Tony and Maureen brought 12″ dobs. Tony’s friend Steve brough the 8″ he had just bought from Tony, a first night out with a new ‘scope. Cliff brought his 6″ imaging system set up to show objects on the screen. We had a lot of glass available, good telescopes, and surprisingly good skies.
Cherry Blossom Festival is a huge event where a large segment of the island population descends upon Waimea for a day of celebration. there are booths and events all across town. There are cultural demonstrations, cooking demonstrations, performances, and lots of food available for an all day, all town festival.
With most of the parking on the south side of Keck observatory, the shopping mall parking lots, and the main event venue north of Keck at Church Row where the cherry trees are, a huge number of people cross the observatory lawns on their way to the festival. It is a natural fit for us to use the day for an outreach event.
The festival is also a very local event. Sure there are a few tourists drawn to Waimea for a festival. But, by and large this is a local event, the majority of attendees are island residents.