A dark moon weekend? I had not been out in a while, time for some dark skies with a telescope. This night had been scheduled for a while, the folks I work with keep asking me about getting a look through one of my big ‘scopes. Thus this night had been set aside on a calendar normally used for staff meetings and investor conference calls.
Where? Kaʻohe of course, the best place for this on the west side, easy range for my friends coming up from Kona.
Everone arrived on schedule at sunset, car pooling up from Kona. Greeted by a spectacular sky, a slim crescent Moon seeting into the golden glow of Hualalai, the bright planets Venus and Jupiter appearing in the gloaming.
I do enjoy doing school star parties, one of the best parts about running our little astronomy club is arranging these events.
The school in this case is Mauna Loa School, a Hilo charter school. This did not entail a two hour drive to Hilo as they came to our side of the island. Much of the student body was camping out at Spencer Beach Park after a day spent visiting nearby sites including Anna’s Ranch.
The school had reserved the entire camping area of the park, along with the large pavilion. About 40 students, staff, and parents. We arrived to a small tent city and the smells of Mexican beans being prepared for dinner.
Invited for dinner we had burritos with the students while the sun set over the ocean. A classic Hawaiian evening with the beach and palm trees, a gentle sea breeze and a glowing sunset.
Early in the evening we were troubled by clouds, with nice views of the Moon through the gaps every few minutes. As usual for this coast the clouds slowly dissipated as daytime heat faded leaving a mostly clear sky towards the end.
The timing was perfect, with a crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn all high and available for viewing. Four telescopes were available for viewing keeping lines a bit shorter at the ‘scopes, with many eager eyes.
As usual when viewing Saturn somebody jokingly accuses me of faking the image… A slide, a sticker, that has has to be fake. Yet there is was, encircled with those beautiful rings, the large moon Titan just above the planet.
Our deadline was 9pm, when the gate above the park would be locked. I gave everyone a 20 minute warning to break down and head out. After a few last looks at Saturn and profuse thanks from the students and staff we just made it, park security locking the gate behind us.
It was a very nice night, clear dark skies and bright stars.
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.
Time to remind everyone of the common rules for star party etiquette. As few simple considerations for your fellow star party participants help make the event more enjoyable for everyone.
Not to say these are hard rules, they will get broken. Try not do break these rules… It is simply a matter of courtesy to other star party participants. Be polite and you will be far more welcomed to share the experience under a dark sky.
The points of etiquette below apply to any star party you might attend, with a few added bits particular to our West Hawaii Astronomy Club events.
A few months back I was reminded that I was remiss in scheduling proper club star parties. Thus I set about fixing that!
What about a site? The MKVIS at Hale Pōhaku is a total zoo lately, too many tourists, folks from the club are hesitant to go there for a good dark experience. it can also be cold and windy up there. Since Vaughn left the island a few months back, no one is using the old upper road site at Puʻu Kuainiho.
Thus I compromised at using my favorite site at Kaʻohe. At 5,800ft the site is lower, warmer, and less windy than the VIS. It also represents about half the drive time it takes to get to the VIS, without the tourist crowd. The site is higher and offers more reliable skies than the Puʻu Kuainiho site
Due to lucky happenstance the location for Oregon Star Party, the same location used for decades, was within the path of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse. This provided an opportunity to both attend the star party again, and to view the eclipse.
I do enjoy the large star parties, something we do not have on the island. I had attended OSP a few years ago, the eclipse made the opportunity to attend once again very tempting.
Registration for the star party was an issue. Due to the eclipse attendance was going to be very good, so good that registration was closed within two hours of opening! I got the announcement email, then waited until I got out of a meeting to register, only to find out I was too late! I put my name on the waiting list and hoped.
With a month to go I received word that my waiting list position was opened for registration. By this time my family already had plans to camp in the Ochoco Mts. for the eclipse, no reason not to do both!
This little meadow is is only a couple acres. Along one side is a spring where crisp water seeps from the ground and marks the beginning of a creek. Along the top the last few hundred feet of the paved road ends at a junction of rougher roads that lead further into the forest.
At the very center of the meadow a large snag stands alone, broken off twenty five feet above the ground, a tangle of limbs on all sides. This old snag is a dark sentinel in the night, almost unreal and a bit eerie in the gloom, it seems to move when you are not looking.
The clearing is surrounded by seventy foot high trees. Pine, fir, and larch are all represented in the dense forest that covers much of the ridgeline. This limits the view, blocking objects low on any horizon. The tall trees also provide a stage above which the stars rise and set, sometimes blinking brightly as they pass behind branches.
There are simply no lights, no substantial civilization for fifty miles in any direction. There are no distant domes of light visible on the horizon to remind one of Edison’s terrible invention. There is just the darkness and the stars above.
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.
Residents of Waimea know to brace for the Christmas Parade. For an evening half the island population descends upon this little town. Days ahead of time, the parking spots along the street, far from the store’s front doors, normally empty, will be full of pickup trucks as people stake out their favorite spot to watch the parade.
The main road closes at 5:30pm, important to know as this closure cuts the ring road around the island. By this time the crowd has grown to a size that is quite surprising on this island. Are there actually that many people here?
This year Keck and CFHT cooperated on a float. Really a decorated truck like most entries in the parade. We handed out glow sticks and glow bracelets to the kids along the parade route. walking along with the group is fun, of course I have a camera along.
After the parade it was time for a star party… Only one issue… Calling it a star party is a bit of a misnomer. There were no stars, there were no telescopes. Two ‘scopes did get set up briefly, then the rain began. With the ongoing winter storm there were only a few glimpses of the moon through the clouds, otherwise nothing to see. The telescopes stayed in the vehicles.