Brrr! Temperatures were hovering around 45 degrees here in Northern California last week. My Hawaiian-made 12.5 inch f/5.75 LITEBOX truss-tube travel scope was yearning for some action in warmer climes. We made some plans to visit and observe with our sidewalk astronomer buddy (and the telescope's maker) Barry Peckham in Honolulu. Mojo and I are members of the Hawaiian Astronomical Society and get over there a couple times a year for new moon star parties.
November can be clear and glorious and it can be also be rainy and windy in Hawaii. 36 inches of rain fell on the Big Island in a 2-day period a few weeks ago. We had a little bit of both weather types over the new moon weekend. A side observing trip to Molokai Ranch was scrapped because of the iffy weather. It was destined to be a shallow sky weekend, with a few suckerhole views of deep sky objects. But we made the best of it with friends, scopes, sun, sand and saved the little umbrellas in our Mai Tai's in case we needed shelter from the gentle Hawaiian rain.
We began our observing with Mars the day after Thanksgiving. Marvin the Martian and K-9 took us on a nostalgic rocket ride from the red planet to the Moon, Earth and even to Planet X (with flybys of planets A through V thrown in for added measure). Liquid sunshine in the guise of rainbows arced all over paradise.
Saturday night was the H.A.S. star party at Dillingham Airfield. Two dozen brave souls drove to the North Shore of Oahu, and about a dozen of these set up telescopes, ranging from a red Astroscan to the LITEBOX duo, my 12.5 inch Strider and Barry's 15 incher. Venus was our early-evening target. In between rain showers and clearing we hopped as fast as we could to our favorite 20 or so deep sky objects. After a few looks at Jupiter and Saturn, a sky show for a large and late arriving family, and some star-hopping guidance for new observers we were ready to call it a night. The local all-night diner beckoned, and we obeyed.
Sunday night however, was gloriously clear. We watched for Venus to appear in the western sky before sunset, and glimpsed our fair ladyfriend high in the Hawaiian sky. The moon, less than one day old at 5:30 pm HST (07:30 UT on Sunday 11/26) was barely discernable above the highrises of Waikiki Beach. The smallest sliver of a moon was visible for a few minutes before we left for our night of observing. We had decided to so some sidewalk astonomy with our two LITEBOX telescopes that night. We set up on a corner flanked by beach, park, zoo and Waikiki glitter. Tiki torches flickered on the beachwalk. There was not much breeze and we were comfortable in our tee-shirts and sandals. Over the course of the next four hours we entertained honeymooners, tour bus drivers, beach boys and store clerks. Groups of local teenage girls, elderly Japanese tourists, and even two wheelchair-bound visitors all got the thrill of a lifetime on the streets of Waikiki Beach. They all saw Jupiter with its three, then four moons. They saw the mighty great red spot. They saw the rings of Saturn, and 5 of the Saturnian satellites. Friends called friends on their cell phones to insist they get down to see the planets.
Several starry-eyed visitors stayed for nearly the duration of our planet-show. Barry ticked off numbers of visitors and we had near or over one hundred at the eyepiece by the time we packed up for the night. That's a lot of Hawaiian eyes at the eyepiece. I'll bet most of these people had no clue they would get such a fantastic free show on a warm late-autumn night on a pacific isle. We were paid in hugs, smiles, wows, gasps and shrieks. We were paid very well.
My favorite comment, uttered in teenage girlish glee. "Oh my gawd! That is soooooooooo Jupiter!"
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