Morning Observing

First quarter moon… Telescope time.

Observing Table
The observing table under red light.

I find myself reliably rising early, often around 4am, something that seemed to have begun during the pandemic. Those who knew me in my younger years may find this a bit unbeliveable, I used to hate mornings, but now?

The other factoid about island mornings. It is almost always clear. The afternoon and evening clouds have dissipated and clear skies are the rule.

Combine these bits with a love of the sky and the result is morning observing sessions, often half a dozen mornings will be spent out with a telescope in those couple weeks the Moon is absent from the morning sky.

Get up, shrug on some ratty old clothes, and wheel the telescope out of the garage. The ‘scope of choice is almost always the old Astrola, even with larger and more sophisticated telescopes available there is just something about using that old manual ‘scope that I find satisfying.

At the telescope in the driveway again
At the telescope in the driveway again

Perhaps the lack of computer or digital setting circles means it is my own skill enabling my path among the stars. The Astrola does have manual setting circles, but I rarely use those. A star chart, a finder, and starhopping allow me to wander through rather than jump about… I just see more, often stumbling across unexpected bits of beauty.

I have upgraded the Astrola a bit lately, adding a larger finder ‘scope with a wide field eyepiece. It is a 50mm 3D printed finder of my own design allowing me to see more sky at once with fainter stars.

There are a few more days until the bright Moon crosses into the morning sky, a few more mornings you will likely find me out with the ‘scope.

Staying on the Summit After Dark

Beaches? Tropical gardens? The volcano? Yeah, BTDT, not what I came to Hawaiʻi for. Visiting Mauna Kea is at the top of the list for some folks who visit our island, a priority I can fully understand. Even better? Bring a camera to this spectacular mountain. After six years of working on Mauna Kea I still carry a camera and find new shots. Some of the most fascinating photographic opportunities occur after the Sun has set. For those who pursue shots in the dark, long exposure photography, the summit provides a setting that is worth the effort to shoot.

Keck 1 Laser
The Keck 1 Laser undergoing engineering tests, Subaru telescope in background
The summit is open after dark, but not unconditionally, I need to stress some explanations concerning that. Officially the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan limits public recreational use to ½hour before dawn and ½hour after dark. This has not been strictly enforced any time in my experience on the mountain. There is no gate in use, you will see people drive up the summit road in the middle of the night.

So what are the real rules for summit access after dark?

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