Afternoon at the U.H. Institute For Astronomy

2015 UH IFA Open House

The University of Hawaii Institute For Astronomy celebrated “The International Year of Light” by celebrating this fact at its annual Open House. The event was held at the Institute For Astronomy’s complex at 2680 Woodlawn Drive in Manoa on April 12. This was my first time to attend the annual event which has been going on for at least the last seven years.

For a first timer, it was what I expected. Numerous exhibits, demos, films and lectures about astronomy, science and technology in general. It was a great place for people to seek knowledge about our universe with the experts who do this for a living every day.

I talked to this person (above) who turned out to be an intern at one of the observatories on the Big Island of Hawaii. He had a small collection of impressive time lapse photographs of the night sky and surroundings taken at the top of Mauna Kea Mountain. He and I talked briefly about the techniques and timing he used to get star trail photographs and expose the night time sky in a beautiful and dynamic way. In order to get s star trail photo one has to leave the camera shutter open for about an hour to get the circular effect created by the path of the moving star field. Needless to say, keeping the shutter open for a long time with a digital camera puts a lot of drain on the batteries. He said he can go through 4 or 5 batteries in one night.

This guy had a very impressive picture of the planet Saturn. He used a special type of camera connected to a telescope that did several hundred monochrome exposures of the planet. When the picture taking process was done all of the exposures were composited and colorized using computer software to create a sharp, beautiful picture (shown in background). Saturn is one of the most beautiful looking planets in the solar system because of its very distinctive rings.

He also informed me of an upcoming solar eclipse that will reach just over 50% of totality on March 8, 2016. That is more than a year earlier than the August 21, 2017 total eclipse over the continental U.S. Totality will be achieved from the eclipse’s origin in Indonesia and through most of the uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean. Totality will occur a few hundred miles north of Hawaii.

He’s got the whole world in his hands…well in this case a globe of the planet Mercury. As everyone knows Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. It’s so hot there that led would probably melt. However at the north and south poles in craters where the sun don’t shine, water has been detected. This person was quite informative as he told us that Venus is an earth sized planet with “extreme global warning” and could only speculate as to why the near side of the moon was not as pitted with craters as the far side. One theory is that there were gigantic lava flows on the earth’s near side. Most of the craters on the moon are probably impact craters from falling meteorites.

While I did not attend all of the demos, the one dealing with the spectrum of light was most impressive. Astronomers spend a lot of time analyzing the color spectrum of light with computerized tools and visual observation. The color spectrum range from very hot to cool and includes all of the bandwidth including the visual part of the spectrum that we can see with our naked eyes as well as the invisible: radio waves, X-rays, infra-red and more. We were handed 35mm slide sized handheld spectrometer. The simple device was explained to us and we used it in the room where different types of light sources yielded their color spectrums when the device as well as a computer was used. I also shot a few images through the spectrometer with my Canon DSLR camera. The photos while not very clear appear below:

The color light spectrum of a white light bulb as taken through the simple spectrometer.

Other activities, demonstrations, displays and videos shown included the following:

Air-powered rockets
Ask an astronomer
Buy an IfA T-shirt
CAVE (3-D virtual environment)
Flight simulator
Hands-on physics
Infrared camera
LEGO Mindstorm robotics
Pan-STARRS virtual tour and operations
Short lectures
Spectroscopy school (learning with light)
Solar observing (weather permitting)
3-D printer demo
Voyager game
Walk on water
Wind tunnel

Friends of the IfA
NASA Space Apps Challenge
Scale model of solar system
Science Fair exhibitors
Youth Color the Cosmos

I took more photos at the Open House and they can be viewed at my Flickr site.


Melvin Ah Ching is a photographer, consultant, blogger, desktop publisher, and computer enthusiast living and working in Hawaii. The Hawaii Files have been online since 2006.