Mauna Kea Public Access Rules Take Effect

On January 13th, 2020 Governor Ige signed the controversial rules governing public and commercial activities on Mauna Kea Lands. They take effect ten days from the signing, on January 23rd.

Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road
Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road

I have mixed feelings on these rules. Some of the rules are badly needed to control public activity atop the summit of Mauna Kea, rules that can help preserve and protect this place. I believe other rules go too far, attempting to regulate visitor activities that have no impact on the mauna.

My concerns on these rules are known, I have written about them here on DV and I have testified at each round of public hearings. I will not editorialize this time, the rules are now finalized. Those who go to the mauna should be aware of what has changed, and much has changed, expect these rules to be implemented in coming months.

Continue reading “Mauna Kea Public Access Rules Take Effect”

Mauna Kea Rules Hearing

This evening was the local hearing for the proposed Mauna Kea Public Access Rules. As the hearing took place at Waikoloa School I had no excuse not to go, it is practically at the end of our street. Of course I was going to attend even if I had to drive across island, this is an issue that directly affects me.

An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea

And yes, I testified, attempting to summarize my three pages of written testimony in three minutes. I suspect I got the gist across in a clear fashion, I will submit my written testimony as well.

Other than myself the testifiers were completely drawn from the anti-telescope community. It is unfortunate that the issue has become so polarized that no other members of the community attended. Access to the mauna affects more than just the astronomy and anti-astronomy folks, this should be of interest to anyone who calls the island home.

As such many of the testifiers paid scant attention to the contents of the rules, instead of providing constructive input so much testimony was simply another protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope. Some form of rules need to be put in place with or without the new telescope.

Continue reading “Mauna Kea Rules Hearing”

Public Access to Mauna Kea… Round 3

It is now round three for the Mauna Kea public access rules. The first versions of the rules were simply bad and rightly faced unanimous criticism from the community. Virtually nobody testified in support of the first version at the public meetings.

A crowd of tourists watching sunrise atop Mauna Kea
A crowd of tourists watching sunrise atop Mauna Kea

This latest version of the rules is much better, at least someone properly edited the rules and there are no complete blunders in the language.

There are still some items in the rules that are problematic. In general the university is attempting to regulate public activity on the mauna far beyond their mandate in the lease or in the comprehensive management plan.

Continue reading “Public Access to Mauna Kea… Round 3”

Arguing with a Flerf

What is a flerf?

Flerf is simply short for a flat earth fanatic, a little easier to type than the whole thing. Some may consider this derogatory, I do not particularly see it as so. Well? Maybe a little. But considering what I have been called by flerfs, I have no regrets.

Chang'e 5 Earth and Moon
The Chang’e 5 test vehicle service module took this photo of Earth and the Moon together. Credit CSNA

Our local flerf goes by the screen name of Adam Asing. That might even be his real name as there is a local musician of the same name. We have occasionally identified other screen names he uses, probably because he has been blocked under his primary alias in so many media outlets.

I would probably not normally notice Mr. Asing, except he routinely attacks the telescopes in just about any media he still has access to. As such he intentionally makes himself a target. As such I sometimes respond… It can be so much fun!

Continue reading “Arguing with a Flerf”

Examining the Proposed Mauna Kea Rules

The University of Hawaii and the Office of Mauna Kea Management have released the latest version of their proposed public access rules for Mauna Kea. Along with the release is an opportunity to comment on the new rules.

Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa
Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa

Public comment on the previously proposed rule package was so overwhelmingly negative that the university was forced to withdraw the rules for revision. As this is round two, shall we take a look at the revised public access rules?

These rules will govern all public and commercial access to the summit of Mauna Kea. As such these rules should be of intense interest of anyone who travels to Mauna Kea. All island residents should be made aware of the contents of these rules as the mauna belongs to all of those who live in its shadow.

Continue reading “Examining the Proposed Mauna Kea Rules”

Reactions to the Drone

When you take a drone out of the case and begin preparations for flight in a public place it is inevitable that you attract a little attention.

Flying with an Audience
Flying the Mavic with a small audience
The worry? Will that attention be negative?

The news has been filled with negative reactions to drones. To be expected of course, drones are a new technology bound to attract attention, and the media tend to write about something only when it goes bad. If it bleeds, it leads reporting.

The result has been quite a few reports of negative reaction in public to a drone. Reports of spying or snooping into private property have become common. There has certainly been some hysteria surrounding drones, some justified, quite a bit completely unjustified.

Continue reading “Reactions to the Drone”

Astronomy Team Releases Planet-Search Data

UC Santa Cruz press release

An international team of astronomers has released the largest ever compilation of exoplanet-detecting observations made using a technique called the radial velocity method. By making the data public, the team is offering unprecedented access to one of the best exoplanet searches in the world.

Planet Hunters Paul Butler and Steve Vogt
UCSC astronomer Steve Vogt (foreground) with collaborator Paul Butler at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Photo by Laurie Hatch
The data were gathered as part of a two-decade planet-hunting program using a spectrometer called HIRES, built by UC Santa Cruz astronomer Steven Vogt and mounted on the 10-meter Keck-I telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

“HIRES was not specifically optimized to do this type of exoplanet detective work, but has turned out to be a workhorse instrument of the field,” said Vogt, a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics. “I am very happy to contribute to science that is fundamentally changing how we view ourselves in the universe.”

Continue reading “Astronomy Team Releases Planet-Search Data”

The Question

Twice in the last week I have gotten The Question. Anyone who works around the public and telescopes will get this one, and you need to be ready to answer it. There is so much history and myth around the subject that the answer can be challenging. For this one, a simple, short answer will not suffice, you need a good, concise and clear response. This is made no easier by the problem that the answer I give is not the one they want to hear.

“Have you ever seen a UFO?”

Day The Earth Stood Still
Scene from Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Of course by UFO they mean some sort of alien spacecraft, visitors from another star or dimension. I have seen things in the sky I didn’t know what they were, unidentified objects. But I have always been able to figure out what they were with a little checking. While the answers are usually interesting they have always been natural or human phenomena.

Note: This article originally posted Dec 13, 2008 on the old Darker View blog.

Take a breath, look the person straight in the eyes, and say it…


I have never seen any evidence of an alien visitor, nor has any of the many, many other astronomers, amateur or professional I know ever mentioned anything to me. We have all seen odd things, but no good evidence for alien visitors.

I am pretty certain there is life out there. Given the sheer odds of hundreds of billions of stars in each major galaxy and hundreds of billions of galaxies, there are simply too many chances. We now know that there are planets around just about every star, we have discovered over three hundred, and that is just around nearby stars within the reach of our instruments. There is life out there, but complex, intelligent life? That is another level of question.

They are not visiting us.

Most people who ask The Question have no concept of just how big space is, or how difficult travel among the stars would be. We have seen too many episodes of Star Trek, where the next planet is reached after the ad break and warp speed solves all of the problems. If it exists, interstellar travel will be rare and difficult, involving titanic amounts of energy. An alien ship coming into our solar system will not only been seen by every instrument we have, and there are a lot these days, but everyone with a backyard telescope. The sort of energy needed to decelerate would be more than obvious.

I have more than a little trouble with many of the eyewitness accounts, they describe a wild array of craft, all different, yet the same, as if they are just elaborating on previous stories. UFO’s with lots of lights that fly in strange ways, suddenly changing directions like the pilot has just left the bar after a heavy night. Advanced technologies will still obey the laws of physics, intelligent beings will act with purpose, what is so often described does not make any sense at all. Descriptions of little grey men are far too familiar, a head, two eyes, two arms, and two legs… far too much like us. If we ever do meet aliens they will look nothing like us, they will be truly alien.

I don’t base this answer on just circumstantial evidence, but on the lack of any reliable evidence that anything has visited. The concept of alien visitation is too extraordinary, the level of proof required is similarly extraordinary. The burden of proof lies on those that say there are aliens, and so far they have failed in that respect. I have a lot of trouble with the concept of aliens that haunt the boondocks and abduct hapless farmhands. Sorry, just not believable.

Who would I believe?

Not certain about that, but I am not sure I would trust any eyewitness. As any police detective will tell you, the human mind is simply too easy to fool, we are horrible witnesses. I would expect the best possible witness would be those who watch the sky regularly, astronomers and the far more numerous amateur astronomers, a community to which I belong.

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, put it very well indeed, his point is one I know well and bears repeating. The amateur astronomy community spends more time under the stars than almost any other group. We keep good optics and cameras handy, if there is anything to be seen, this large group of people would see it.

We don’t.

On any clear night, particularly weekends, there are thousands of amateur astronomers sitting with telescopes under dark skies. We see lots of things, but we know what they are. This community is educated in the many beautiful and arcane phenomena that sky can produce. We make a point to see these things and recognize them for what they are. Flickering planets low on the horizon, aircraft flares, high altitude balloons, the bright flash of a bursting meteor, satellite flares and many more. Those of us who have spent time around civilian aviation, or the military have seen even more.

If you are sure I am wrong… Show me the evidence!

Sorry, bad photos, odd Mayan carvings or unreliable eyewitness accounts don’t do it. Been there, read and seen it. When an alien ship lands on the Ellipse in front of the White House, or some other solid proof is produced I will re-examine my conclusion. But until then…


Space and Astronomy at the Kona Library

Planets, Stars, and How to Live on a Space Station

May 23rd Astronomy Program
Kailua Kona Library
3:30 PM to 4:30 PM

Allan Honey, a program engineer at Keck Observatory, will talk about the different distances in space between stars and planets. Allan’s son, Ben Honey, a flight controller for the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, will explain what happens when astronauts live and work in space. Allan Honey has worked at the Keck Observatory for more than 26 years, and Ben Honey grew up on the Big Island before leaving to study at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

A Brief Guide to Public Observing

Presenting the wonders of the night sky to the general public can be a rewarding experience. The smile on a child’s eyes they first time the see the rings of Saturn or the craters of The Moon is a truly a wonderful thing.

Princess at the Telescope
A Halloween princess watching moonrise through the telescope
Public observing can also be a daunting challenge to the inexperienced public presenter. A little preparation and thought can prevent a lot of trouble and make it a better experience for both the presenter and the public.

I am attempting to put down a few of the things I have learned in over a decade of hauling a telescope around. In that time I have used countless schoolyards as observatories, set my gear up at posh resorts, on the tee line of a driving range, outside the front door of Wal-Mart, across the fence from cows at a dude ranch, parking lots, city sidewalks and grassy lawns, under conditions both perfect and absolutely lousy for doing astronomy. Dealt with everything from drunks to two year olds, and I still do this regularly… It is worth every young smile!

Continue reading “A Brief Guide to Public Observing”