Astronomy in the Islands

Roland Christen

Hi Astronuts,

I haven't been as active on the groups because Marj and I took a short vacation to Hawaii Island just over a week ago. I will be back in the office early next week.

For those who have not visited Hawaii, there is much to see besides the clear dark skies. But if you're into astronomy, it's a great place to get re-acquainted with the night sky if you come from a light polluted city like I do. The Big Island of Hawaii is the least light polluted of the 5 major islands. At our location at 560 ft above the ocean on the side of Kohala Mountain we get over 300 clear nights per year, and it is so dark that you cannot see your hand in front of your face at night.

This evening, after enjoying a fabulous meal at Tommy Bahama's with friends of ours, we drove home to a beautiful sunset with sky colors ranging from dark red at the ocean horizon thru green to violet above. Sunsets last only a short time here in the tropics, and even while the western horizon was still glowing deep red, the Milky Way was already rising above Kohala Mountain. The air felt like velvet with a soft breeze coming down the mountain. The 4 day Moon followed Venus toward the ocean horizon, their light reflecting off the water, surrounded by stars in the deep twilight.

In the East above the mountain, the Summer Milky Way arched across the sky from far north to where it disappeared behind Hualalai mountain to the south of us. For me it was an opportunity to re-connect with some of my favorite deep sky objects along the southern Milky Way. I took my 92mm Stowaway out, popped it onto my old Televue Gibraltar mount and cruised the southern portion from Sagittarius thru Scorpius to Ara and Norma all the way down to Crux. Armed with my widefield 32mm eyepiece, M16, M17, Trifid and Lagoon all glowed brightly in that tiny aperture. The great globulars in the Teapot very nicely resolved with my 3.5mm Baader Hyperion ocular. Then an old friend that I have not seen for many years, the gorgeous Butterfly Nebula in Scorpius, as magnificent as I remember it before light pollution dimmed it away in my Illinois home. Onward and southward we wandered, my little Stowaway and me, checking out all the bright knots and star clusters along the way until I glimpsed the Pearl Cluster in Crux, just before it sank into the ocean in the south-west. By 10:30pm the Milky Way was literally blazing above, something I had not seen since attending the Texas Star Party near Big Bend National Park some 40 years ago.

Yes, it's darker on Mauna Kea at the 9000ft Visitor Center, and darker still at 11,000ft at the Hawaiian observatory site on Mauna Loa (and bitter cold), but here on the side of Kohala mountain it's balmy and there's a pineapple drink nearby.

See you all in a week,

Moonset over the Pacific:

MilkyWay over Kohala Mountain:

Roland Christen