Astro Day West

There’s several telescopes out and pointing to the sky, in broad daylight. It’s Astro Day!

Staff Writer Clara Scheidle
Photo Courtesy of Mirei Sugita

A student gazes into a large telescopeLuke Dow looks to the stars

The last thing you would expect to see in the shopping front of an old Sports Authority in Kona Commons would be several astronomical telescopes, set up, plugged in and ready for observing. In the middle of the day. In broad daylight.

This was the first thing visitors saw upon entering Astro Day West. Now, you might have heard of Astro Day; after all, it’s been quite a popular event in Hilo for many years now. Well, as popular as the event was, people began to realize that the drive from Kona to Hilo might be hampering some people’s ability to attend, and thus: Astro Day West was born. The second annual Astro Day West-- so named because it takes place in Kona-- is held on Oct. 6, 2018.

The event itself coincides with Astronomy Day, created as an international effort to share the wonder of astronomy within local communities. Set up in this building are more than 30 booths made to engage children and their families in astronomy-related learning. There are giant space puzzles laid out across the floor, a planetarium viewing show in a back corner, and a raffle going on in the center, giving lucky winners astronomy themed books and games.

And around it all: children. They run around the warehouse with their friends and family, participating in games and activities that help them learn about space. They hand off the prizes they win- stickers, posters, pencils, all astronomy themed- to their parents before eagerly bounding off to the next thing.

So it makes sense that there’s telescopes outside this event, but how are they being used? Jameeka Marshall, Outreach Liaison Officer for the University Astrophysics club at UH Hilo, explains that there are actually things worth observing during the daytime. For example, through one of the telescopes, we can see Venus, and it looks like a smaller crescent moon. The other telescopes are pointed towards the sun, some equipped with regular solar filters and others with H-Alpha filters. There’s even a small radio telescope, which is projecting the noise from the sun- a high pitched noise that’s certainly ear-catching.

“It is important to do outreach,” Marshall says, during a rare moment of idle activity. “We need our young people, even the little keiki, to see the fun and excitement in science because we need science to progress the world, especially in a positive way.” Then a new wave of parents comes through, and she’s off once again to answer curious questions about what they’re looking at through these telescopes.

The W.M. Keck Observatory was among the many observatories that posted up a booth for Astro Day. Andrew Cooper, an engineer at Keck, agrees on the importance of outreach. They’re here to “spread dreams and fun throughout the community” and demonstrate that they’re “not some ivory tower on the top of Maunakea.” Indeed, the observatories do seem ethereal, visible from most places on the island; but here, on Astro Day, they have miniature demonstrations on how their respective telescopes operate and activities that kids delighted in participating. Keck has pieces of glass in different shapes that show how light can be bent and reflected in different ways. At the booths, they answer small questions, so that the community understands that the telescopes on Maunakea “exist to answer the big questions.” Answers that unlock the secrets of the universe and connect how we all fit into our own little corner of space.

Father and son John and Luke Dow were especially excited about the opportunities presented to them by Astro Day. John reveals that he and his family love science, and they were all delighted to find out that there would be another Astro Day in Kona this year. The family has only just arrived, but their energy is contagious; he actually breaks off from talking about the importance of science in their lives to spot a space suit in the distance to point out to his son. “I want to expand their awe,” he says, as Luke looks on towards the space suit. Luke then says that his favorite thing thus far has been holding a meteorite that is as old as Earth itself. John continues that it’s always a great idea to “start teaching curiosity to your children, to the next generation, to want to know and understand the basics of life because… knowledge is power.”

It’s obvious that Astro Day is having an impact when Luke proudly proclaims that when he grows up, he wants to be an astronaut.

Although he speaks clearly, it’s almost impossible to hear, what with the amount of people in the room skyrocketing with the passage of time. Children and adults alike are bustling around the warehouse, looking for the next activity, continuously seeking knowledge. It’s a room full of possibility.