New Moon Saturday

A line of big telescopes greeted the crowd. Mike had his 20″, Cliff his 24″, my 18″ Deep Violet, later in the evening Olivier set up his 18″ Priscilla. All of this large glass was open to the public, we each had long line of folks waiting a turn at the eyepiece. It was a huge Saturday night crowd, several hundred people awaited darkness. Yes, I had made the decision to observe from the VIS, knowing that there would be a crowd, but wow!

Observing at the VIS
A line of big ‘scopes to greet a huge Saturday crowd at the MKVIS
Lots of folks wondered why there were so many telescopes. Over and over we explained that they were lucky, having chosen the right night to visit the mountain. A Saturday night close to the new moon, with local amateurs bringing their own telescopes to share.

Showpiece objects, the Andromeda Galaxy, The Pleiades and Jupiter were available for viewing. I was stuck on the Orion Nebula all evening long. I changed targets once, to meet a chorus of request to move back to the nebula. I have to admit it was a pretty view, even to me, who has seen this sight more times than I remember. I put the 35mm eyepiece in place, creating a bright low power view that had visitors waiting through line a few times for second and third looks.

In addition to the big dobs there were quite a few smaller ‘scopes present. Maureen had her C-11 setup, Larry brought his nice Stellarvue 102mm refractor, Mike had an 8″ SCT beside his 20″ for use by a friend. Dan didn’t bring a ‘scope, but he did bring pizza! We met Woody, an Alaskan Airlines pilot flying the Anchorage to Kona run. Out of a couple carry-on sized bags he produced more telescope than we would have thought fit in airline luggage…. A neat collapsible pier arrangement with an alt-az mount and a very nice WO 110mm APO.

Continue reading “New Moon Saturday”

A Bright Glow from Halema’uma’u

It caught everyone’s attention, suddenly the southern sky lit up, a bright glow coming from the direction of our volcano. This occurred about 21:45 last night, we were getting ready to put away the telescopes, ending a great evening at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center.

The red glow was unmistakeable, something was happening at Halemau’uma’u. We moved to where we could see the brightly lit plume over the volcano, conversation buzzing with questions, what is going on?

Our guess is that something, most likely a large rockfall, disturbed the lava lake at the bottom of Halema’uma’u crater. The lake, normally crusted over and dark, can be easily disturbed. If something happens to break up the crust, the glow of this very hot lava is surprisingly bright. Bright enough that we were surprised by the show from our vantage point about 30 miles away.

What happened? I will have to read the daily report later today and see if anything out of the ordinary is noted. A nice event, and a treat for the tourists still at the VIS near closing. The glow faded over the next 20-30 minutes. After closing the VIS and beginning my drive back down the mountain, it had faded enough to be barely visible again.

My Canon G11 is not normally a good after dark camera, but given the bright moonlight, and the brighter glow from the volcano, it did fairly well…

Update! Today’s volcano report indicates a series of large rockfalls occurred last night.

Halema'uma'u Glow
The plume at Halema'uma'u lit up at night as seen from the Mauna Kea VIS, 15s exposure with a Canon G11

A Great Night at the VIS

Last night was the sort of evening we love, and the reason we volunteer at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. One of those nights where the stars seem close enough to touch, we bring them within reach of those who came to the mountain to learn about the universe.

MKVIS at Night
The Mauna Kea VIS at night with a crowd at the telescopes
Conditions were near perfect, a dark, clear sky with no Moon, it would rise later. Not only was it dark, but the air was steady, allowing nice high magnification views of Jupiter and other objects. The air was still, it was cold, but without the wind that can make conditions miserable at 9,200ft. The result was a beautiful night that everyone cold enjoy to the fullest.

Joining us were visitors from around the world, I met people speaking German, Spanish and Czech, a British family living in Japan, and more. About fifty people were to be found on the patio when I did the evening star talk. Not only did they come, but they came with curious minds and a will to learn. The questions came from all sides, fast and furious, a constant stream of information.

With such beautiful sights in the telescope to see, the questions just come naturally. I used a C-14 on the Astro-Physics mount to jump from object to object, the Swan Nebula, the globular cluster of M22, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Wild Duck Cluster, the Ring Nebula, the Dumbell Nebula, Alberio. Everything looked so nice that even as jaded observer, I found myself lingering at the eyepiece to enjoy the view.

The evening was a series of personal conversations with one group or family. I would try to use little vignettes to put the knowledge in context, the shape and size of our galaxy, or the story of star birth and death. Trying to convey, in a few minutes, a little glimpse of a bigger picture and not just a mess of gee-whiz information. Sometimes this works, and you are rewarded with a moment of connection, where your audience suddenly understands.

That is what we come to the mountain for.