PPT in the News… Again

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.

Pōhakuloa Solar Telescope
A solar telescope set up at Pōhakuloa Training Area for Earth Day.
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.

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Out in the Dark with HPA

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.

HPA Students and the 20" Obsession telescope
Students and chaperones from HPA enjoy dark skies with the 20″ obsession telescope
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.

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Venus Becomes a Crescent

Even when Venus is high in the sky and well placed for observation I will seldom take the effort of turning a telescope towards the planet. Why? Because Venus is pretty boring to look at. Perpetually cloud covered it has all the detail of a cue ball. It is a white disk with nothing of note to be seen. Yeah, pretty boring. Now turn the telescope to Jupiter.

Crescent Venus
Venus approaching inferior conjunction, 24Dec2013
One exception to this occurs when Venus is approaching, or just emerging from inferior conjunction. As the planet passes between the Earth and the Sun we are looking at the nighttime side of the planet, with only a little of the daytime side to be seen. As a result Venus will appear as a brilliant crescent.

This begins as the planet passes maximum eastern elongation, about two months before inferior conjunction. At this point the planet is seen from the side with respect to the sunlight, the planet will be about half illuminated. In the weeks after maximum elongation the planet will appear ever more crescent.

Venus 28May2012
Venus on 28May2012, about 12°44′ from the Sun
The last weeks before conjunction, as Venus is very low in the sunset, or the first weeks after conjunction as it sits very low in the dawn are the most interesting. During this time the planet is a very fine crescent, quite a beautiful sight in the telescope. Many observers, including myself, have made a point to observe Venus at this time, the one time this planet really becomes interesting to view.

Imaging Venus in the Daytime
Imaging Venus in the daytime a mere 12°44′ from the Sun.
As the planet is quite low in the sky it makes it a challenging telescopic target and distortion by the atmosphere can be troubling, blurring the view.

It is possible to enjoy this sight in the daytime, while the planet is high in the sky, the seeing can be better and the view sharper. Of course this also occurs when the planet is near the Sun, thus extreme caution should be practiced at the telescope to avoid any direct sunlight and possible eye damage.

Planetary Drawings by Galileo
A page from Galileo’s 1623 treatise The Assayer—Il Saggiatore
The phases of Venus are quite interesting from a historical standpoint. The phases of Venus clearly show that the planet revolves around the Sun. The phases were one of the primary arguments used by Galileo in his treatise The Assayer—Il Saggiatore published in 1623, where he lays out many of his ideas on science itself and how observation and experimentation should be primary.

While the the evidence challenged prevailing ideas of the time, some astronomers attempted to explain the phases of Venus by any other means to preserve their Earth centered universe, which led to rather tortured models of planetary motion. But it was clear to most that Galileo was right, the simple and elegant answer was that the Sun lay at the center. The orbits of Mercury and Venus, the phases, along with other observations like the moons of Jupiter, were hard evidence that few could ignore.

In 2017, eastern elongation occurred on January 12th. By now Venus has begun to show a substantial crescent, about 30% illuminated if you look today, Feb 12th. Over the next few weeks as the planet sinks into the sunset, the crescent aspect will thin dramatically.

By the end of February the planet will be only 17% illuminated, another week after that it becomes only 11%, by which time the planet will be difficult to spot in the sunset. Inferior conjunction will occur on March 25th. A couple weeks later and it will be possible to spot the planet in the dawn and observe the now thickening crescent.

Venus Events for 2017

  Date UT Separation Mag
Maximum Elongation Jan 12 47.1°E -4.4
Inferior Conjunction Mar 25    
Maximum Elongation Jun 3 45.9°W -4.3
 
Source: NASA Sky Calendar

ATM Gallery

2017 Cherry Blossom Festival Star Party

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.

Solar Viewing
Viewing the Sun at the Cherry Blossom 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.

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Hawaiian Enough?

As the TMT contested case drags on we continue to watch. Thanks to the efforts of the staff of Nā Leo TV the entire proceedings are streamed live. Several of the latest witnesses for the University are Hawaiian supporters of the telescope project, it is these voices that I am most interested in hearing.

Retired Judge Riki May Amano
Retired Judge Riki May Amano presides over the TMT contested case hearing
It is when the questioning begins that things get ugly. Question after question challenges the integrity of the witness. The questions challenge their personal values as if to say “You are not Hawaiian.” Over and over the questions were repeated, each successive question designed to attack the cultural identity of the witness…

“Where did you grow up?”
“How old were you when you learned that?”
“Who taught you that?”
“When was the last time you were on Mauna Kea?”
“When did you last worship on Mauna Kea?”
“Where did your family worship?”
“Do you pray to Poliʻahu?”
“Who are the parents of Poliʻahu?”

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Some Chinese Eyepieces

A Celestron FirstScope in need of eyepieces. Time to find a couple inexpensive eyepieces. With the telescope destined for an eight year old girl I really did not expect the eyepieces to live up to any demanding standards. But neither do I want the views to be truly horrible either, it would be nice if the telescope is properly enjoyable.

Chinese Eyepieces
A set of cheap Chinese eyepieces
Thus I went to the source of cheap optics and found a set of Chinese eyepieces on eBay that might just do the job. For $22 they were the right price. The set includes three eyepieces, a 23mm, a 10mm and a 4mm for high power, a nice selection of focal lengths. The right price, but how about image quality?

As the eBay sale is from a US seller the eyepieces arrive in just a few days. Unpacking the eyepieces is the first pleasant surprise… The quality is not bad, metal barrels, decently molded rubber bits, decent looking glass. An ebay sale often a bit of a gamble, but this does not look bad at all.

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