|Wayne Fukunaga controls a telescope owned by fellow West Hawaii Astronomy Club member Bill Brevoort.- - Bill Brevoort | Special To West Hawaii Today|
Stargazing in West Hawaii
by Krista PinoSince the beginning of human existence, the confetti-filled sky has captured the attention of those bewitched by the unknown. It has inspired curiosity and admiration in people throughout the world.
Special To West Hawaii Today
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 10:34 AM HST
Special To West Hawaii Today
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 10:34 AM HST
But some agree that in today's society less emphasis has been placed on the sky's importance. A result of this was the creation of the West Hawaii Astronomy Club, a group of professional astronomers and community members who come together to take a closer look at what is happening in the cosmos.
"The sky is comforting," said Laura Kinoshita, with W. M. Keck Observatory. "You can always look up and see Orion."
Across cultures and religions the sky is one thing everyone has in common, she added.
Created in 2004 and sponsored by Keck and Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the West Hawaii Astronomy Club provides the public information about the universe during their monthly meetings, which are held on the second Tuesday of the month. The co-sponsors alternate hosting the event as well as giving several lectures a year, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources provides locations for star gazing events.
During a recent presentation, Kinoshita gave an in-depth explanation of Jupiter and how the planet interacts with its numerous moons. She used ballroom dancing as a metaphor to demonstrate a planet's orbit. Along with members present at the monthly meeting, she shared her enthusiasm in the discovery of more earth-like planets.
"People want to get to know the sky better," said Kinoshita. "They don't know how, so the club offers that opportunity."
Kinoshita said her emphasis at Keck is public outreach, and WHAC offers a non-threatening environment for first-timers and young people interested in learning about the sky.
While astronomy club membership nationwide is depleting, WHAC does not seem to be facing that problem. Meetings are attended by 40 or more members each month, and Kinoshita said she is grateful WHAC seems to be bucking the trend and continues to increase in popularity. However, she is not surprised to see the public interest in astronomy after being warned of the numerous skywatchers living in West Hawaii.
"When I first moved here I was warned to be careful about what I do in open windows because there are lots of telescopes in Waikoloa," Kinoshita said.
One of the newer additions to WHAC and Keck, Andrew Cooper, shares his expertise and experience with astronomy clubs. Leaving his position as president of the Tucson Astronomy Association, Cooper moved here to take a position as Keck's electrical engineer to work on the world's largest telescope. He describes the club as open and friendly with plenty of interesting interactions.
"It is a social environment to meet people with the same interest and curiosity," Cooper said.
In modern society, humans are losing common knowledge, that which was elemental in the success of the human race. Humans are living in a society where most of their time is spent indoors, and it is causing deterioration of ancient knowledge. Cooper asks how many people can name the brightest star in the sky on any given night or who can point out the North Star.
"Go back during the years before lights when people lived outside and they could answer those questions," said Cooper. "People living on farms could probably answer these questions."
Astronomy clubs are a place for amateur astronomers to collaborate and share their projects with each other and the public. Amateur astronomers fall into two categories; the professional amateur and those with a passion for the hobby, Cooper said. Professional amateurs have their own telescope and do long-term projects.
"Amateur astronomy is one service where an amateur does contribute," he added.
Amateur astronomers are able to study one topic at their leisure and later share their findings with the professional community. Amateur astronomers are able to take their time and do an in-depth study. On the other hand, professionals are expected to produce certain information or experiments in an allotted time frame.
Amateur astronomer Gregory Keostering has been a member of WHAC for 5 years. He has lived in Hawaii off and on for 20 years and has been an avid sky watcher the entire time. Keostering said he enjoys the club because the meetings are very informative and the lectures are given by leaders in the field.
"It's today what is happening," Keostering said. "I dig the photography, information and the open forum is icing on the cake."
Keostering agrees with Kinoshita and Cooper regarding the antiquity of knowledge that comes from the sky. Before there were computers and televisions, life revolved around what was in the sky, the land, the water and what was happening day and night. Keostering said Hawaii is one of the best places to view the sky because of the minimal light pollution and clear skies. The Mauna Kea summit is another valuable resource open to everybody.
West Hawaii Astronomy Club President Doug Summers said the lecturers volunteer their time and knowledge, which is one reason there are no membership dues. The club is run by a leadership committee, which meets once a year to discuss business, decide the objectives for the year and potential lecture subjects. Summers said most of the speakers are leaders in the astronomy profession.
A typical meeting begins with business discussions, then the Sky Tonight, where there is a computerized image of what can be seen in the sky from Hawaii. Summers said WHAC tries to have some beginning information for newcomers and novices, and there is always a galaxy talk and information about upcoming events.
In addition to star gazing and meetings, the club also does school events and helps support Astro Day, an annual event that is supported by the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Booths are set up to help the community realize the benefits of astronomy in Hawaii.
Another area the club supports is continuous availability of the Visitors' Center at Mauna Kea where people can view the sky and their surroundings through telescopes.
Despite the club's community involvement, Summers said they would still like to reach out more to the community.
"We're trying to be a solid astronomy club for the west side of the island," Summers said.
For more information, visit www2.keck.hawaii.edu/whac/home.html.