AAVSO CONVENTION IN HAWAII ------------------------ John Pazmino NYSkies firstname.lastname@example.org 2002 July 25
[Original 4-part posting combined with minor editing]
Introduction ---------- The 91st spring meeting of the American Association of Variable Star Observers convened in Hawaii on 2002 June 30 to July 6. All procedings were held at the Outrigger hotel on the Kona side of the Big Island. The convention had three main components: the AAVSO's own sessions, several trips around the Big Island, and a joint AAVSO-NASA workshop.
Getting to Hawaii --------------- There was no 'cheap and simple' way to reach the convention from New York. In fact, the toughest chore in preparing for this trip was securing airline flights that got me to and from Kona without excessive cost or idle time. Eventually I did get flights on United Airlines to arrive on Sunday evening, the 30th of June, and depart fro New York in evening of Sunday, the 7th of July. Due to the absurd airfare, my agent tempered the pain with a discount coupon for a helicopter trip on the extra free day of Sunday. This was a very welcome relief! The journey to and from Kennedy airport was by transit, quick and convenient from my home in Brooklyn. The flights themselfs were pretty boring and dreary, as for me are all airline flights when travelling alone. There was no group coming from New York to accompany and I missed any AAVSOers at the plane change in San Francisco. I arrived a wee late for the formal start of the convention, a luau, or Hawaiian lawn party and barbeque, but caught the last half of this festival. There was plenty of eats besides pork and rice. The native dancers, specially the one with the fire batons, were excellent. I missed the hula-hula dancers at the beginning, put on so you can tell your friends that, yes, you saw hula-hula dancers.
World Trade Center ---------------- Airport security measures, according to the delegates generally, were not so much increased as they were more consistent. Scanner agents looked at the X-ray screens; some people were pulled off boarding lines for deeper searches; some bags were hand inspected. In my case, I heard announcements at all four boardings (two each way) about minding your luggage, possible random selection for search, and having photo IDs. But the only 'new' feature I encountered, really an old one lapsed several years ago, was that photo IDs were examined on the boarding line when turning in the boarding pass. Announcements instructed passengers to have the ID and boarding pass in hand ready for inspection; don't hand over the entire ticket folder and paperwork. On my way from Los Angeles to New York there was a delay from a checked bag found with no matching passenger on the flight. The bag was removed before releasing the plane for take off. Other than that, the security at all the airports seemed about normal for preWTC, just more carefully carried out.
Hometown poster ------------- There was one weird incident while at the convention. On trips where there are delegates from other states and countries I bring along a hometown poster of New York. This is a large sheet of drawing paper with pictures of the City taped to it. The poster is hung with low-tack masking tape on the hotel door to illustrate and educate about the City. The poster was made several years ago from postcards and tourist photos no newer than the mid 1990s. So there were many ediurnate scenes on the poster, including ones of the World Trade Center in those of Lower Manhattan. At this convention, as at other previous ones, the delegates liked the poster and it generated much convo about the City. On the last day of the meeting, while on a tour of the volcanos by van, a National Park Service ranger asked me about the poster and the pictures on it. I figured he somehow saw the poster, so I noted that it is an old one from a couple years ago. Some pictures are out of date, but still characterize the City. He was satisfied with that explanation. It seems that someone at the hotel saw the poster in the morning, after we left for the volcano park, and was 'worried' or 'concerned' about the World Trade Center. This person, unknown to the ranger and me, called the local police! Since we already left the hotel, the police called the National Park Service to see me about the poster! Altho the ranger found no cause for further query after learning about the poster and seeing that I was with the astronomy convention, he did have to file his report and close out the inquiry. This took about twenty minutes, after which he apologized for the delay and shook my hand. We chatted for a few more minutes about, erm, the World Trade Center and even let a fellow conventioneer take a picture of him with me!
The hotel ------- The Outrigger is a vacation resort hotel with all the usual amenities. Altho it is a modern design, it had appointments alluding to Polynesia. The interior and guest rooms were acclimatized while the lobby and other open air facilities were not. Never the less, at no time was the air oppressive in this summer period. There was always a place to stay in shade and breeze. Breakfast was by buffet or menu, the former being quick and spontaneous for the days with early activities. Food was Americanized, but good and tasty. Lots of fruits and juices prevented dehydration. Dry items, like whole fruit and cookies, I scooped up for snacks before bed or on trips. The crew was most attentive and helpful in every way. I never met a rude or indifferent person. In some cases I think the hotel went a bit overboard, but that's better than being ignored or short-serviced. A faulty bathroom fixture, for instance, was repaired within hours after I reported it to the front desk. The hotel was extra generous to me after the episode about my hometown poster. As examples, it gave me a free coupon for lunch, my room until I was ready to leave well beyond normal checkout time, and a steeply discounted fare for the shuttle bus to Kona airport. The only real downside of this -- and other hotels on this western coast of hawaii -- is isolation. Most of the delegates had no car, altho rentals were available at the airport, and were essentially confined to the hotel grounds. There was nothing in the walking vicinity to explore nor any routine transit among the hotels or surrounds. This was offset by all the tours beginning at the hotel via bus or van. My helicopter trip had a pickup and return car to the hotel.
The Big Island ------------ Every thing for the meeting was on Hawaii's Big Island, the island of Hawaii itself. Unless you had made extra arrangements, there was no travel to the other islands. Those whose air flights took them thru Honolulu, on Oahu island, could take extra days to explore there. The Big Island is a typical Pacific island in that it has two totally separate regimes of climate on the east and west side. The barrier on Hawaii between the two sides are the mountains Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. These rise to over 4 kilometers above the sea and divert prevailing winds from the east away from the west side of the island. The result is that the island has an east side which is wet, hot, cloudy, windy, tropical and a west side that is calm, dry, cool, sunny, desert. As a further illustration of the two regimes of climate, Hilo on the east coast gets five METERS of rain per year while Kona on the west gets a few centimeters per year. This dichotomy fooled many folk scouting for a viewing site for the 1001 solar eclipse. At that time the only handy weather data were from Hilo airport. Its reports were uniformly dismal: rain, cloud, fog, humid. They dissuaded eclipse chasers, with no inkling that the Kona side was sunny, cool, dry, clear. Actually the two Maunas are the tallest mountains on Earth when measured from their rising off of the seabed. The Pacific Ocean covers the lower five kilometers of their full nine kilometer height!
Latitude adjustment ----------------- Hawaii is the southernmost place in the United States, more or less in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, near latitude 19 degrees north. This twenty-two degrees south of New York, making for a radical alteration in the placement of constellations on the sky. Polaris hovered low in the north; the Big Dipper set in the early morning hours. Rasalhague was almost overhead. I faced north to see Vega. The far south stars of New York are high in the sky, above the trees of the hotel campus. These include Lupus, Scorpius, Sagittarius, and the galactic center. Below these are the 'hidden' stars of Norma, Ara, Triangulum Australe, and a few dimmer groups. July evenings were a bit too late for the classical southern groups of Carina and Crux. The Centauri set soon after dark. But Venus was way up there! And Jupiter was glimpsed by a couple sharp-eyed folk just above the sunset point, altho he was near superior conjunction. Hawaii remains on standard time, a fact that threw off many delegates used to the late sunset on the mainland! With the Sun's more vertical angle of attack against the horizon, darkness comes quickly after sunset. Ny only personal souvenir relates to this latitude shift. You probably know that the vast bulk of starcharts and starbooks are made for the mid northern latitudes, for Europe and US mainland. It's tough to find material specificly for other latitudes. But at the visitors center of Mauna Kea, among the shlock books on stars and tall mountains, was a curio I snapped up. It's 'The sky tonight' compiled for Hawaii. Its charts are neatly and accurately drawn for the Caribbean, mid Mexico, far southern Florida, Baja California, and other places in this same latitude band. The text includes Pacific star folklore from Hawaii, Korea, China, Japan, Polynesia.
Volcanos ------ Hawaii is the most actively volcanic place on Earth; its volcanos are continuously erupting and excreting lava. From Kona it looks so peaceful and pleasant, making it a favored holiday destination. Yet in the center of the island, it is a raging Hell. No human can endure for long in the sulphurous air, scorching steam, searing lava ground, open pits of fire. Part of the volcano territory is enclosed in Volcanoes National Parks (yes, it uses that extra 'e'), which has trails and tours within the volcanos. Because the activity shifts by place and time, you must enter the grounds only at the visitor stations and plan your itinerary with the rangers. Many areas are off limits due to the dangers of instant incineration with a wrong step or chance fall. Mauna Loa is currently live. There are a couple peripheral active volcanos, too, on Hawaii Island. Mauna Kea is [supposedly] dormant; that's where the observatories are. There is some interference at the top of Mauna Kea from the fires of Mauna Loa, so far tolerable. Between the two mountains is the Saddle, where they overlap, which is itself at no mean elevation, about 2,500 meters. Roads across the Saddle are the main connection between the two sides of Hawaii and give access to starviewing areas. Lava oozes out gently and steadily with few stereotypical eruptions. The last major blowup of Mauna Loa was in 1984, flooding and entombing whole towns in the south part of Hawaii. Some of these are now open for tours. The lava rolls down the slopes along, for now anyway, tame paths to the sea. It spills over cliffs into the Pacific Ocean , raising up billows of steam and adding about 200,000 square meters of land to the island each year. Alas, during this meeting, the flow ebbed and the helicopter trip couldn't find any to show me. (I did see such an awesome cascade in 1991.)
Attendance -------- This was the largest ever AAVSO meeting, with about 180 attendees. However, there was a bit of 'stuffing' in that some thirty delegates were part of a teacher training convention for astronomy that ended in the week before the AAVSO meeting. This was the 'Toward other planetary systems' (TOPS), an annual affair run by the Institute for Astronomy at University of hawaii. Being that this time AAVSO cooperated with U of H, it extended the teacher's stay for the very AAVSO meeting. The TOPS delegates presented several papers of their seminars and workshops at the AAVSO sessions. They also set up a poster display at the rear of the convention hall, which we all admired during the many breaks. Most of the teachers were from Hawaii, all islands, with a few from the mainland. (Hawaii IS a state, so you can't say, 'back to the states' or some such.) The regulars of AAVSO members from the fall meetings, always in Massachusetts, were for the most part missing. This absence is likely due to the length of the meeting, a week as against a weekend, and the complexities of assembling sensible and affordable airline flights. However, a good representation from AAVSO headquarters was on hand, including Director Janet Mattei. This meeting was billed as a Pan-Pacific meeting to attract attendees from Pacific nations. Australia and New Zealand each sent several delegates, who marvelled at the 'northern' skies. Japan sent a few and Marshall Islands fielded one. Other overseas (from mainland viewpoint) delegates came from England, Belgium, Canada, and Finland.
Presentations ----------- This was the first AAVSO convention where NO chemophotography was employed in the presentations! I myself, for my own first time, put my visuals into a computer file and burned it into a CD. This I took with me and gave to the 'projectionist' to load onto a local computer. There was nothing fancy about this show. It was merely the digitized equivalent of a classical slideshow. It so happened that I use PowerPoint at work and i figured to give it a try for AAVSO. I just scanned into digital images some chemophotographic slides and printed pictures, assembled them on the computer into a sequence of 'slides', and canned the whole thing into a PowerPoint file. Every one else used either this method or viewgraphs, 'overheads', for their papers. The conventional slide projector, in the center aisle of the room, sat unused thruout the whole week of the meeting. There is still a learning curve for most of the speakers with both viewgraphs and digital shows. There were 'slides' with all too small lettering, tiny pictures, color clash, thin lined charts and graphs, raw copies from books or webpages, and all that. People did ask why all my picture were nicely sized and fitted to the screen. I cut-&-pasted in hardcopy first, whited or blacked out the extraneous stuff, and scanned the finished sheet into the image. Due to the large number of papers, time was limited to 10 or 15 minutes each. Yet each speaker ran over a bit, including me, throwing the schedule off. Time was regained in shortening the breaks a bit.
Street stars ---------- My paper, on July 2nd, Tuesday morning, was about activities for home astronomers who are sandbagged against orthodox stargazing. In fact, stargazing in general is actually a tough pursuit in the best of conditions. About the most routine complaints I hear in my astronomy work are about lack or loss of stargazing for this or that reason. Naturally there are plenty of ways to miss out on stargazing in New York, so we evolved over the decades many alternative ways to carry on home astronomy. My talk showed such features of New York astronomy as several kinds of indoor meetings, joint meetings with other clubs (even nonastronomy ones), science theater and exhibits, patronizing astronomy-named businesses (coffee shops and diners in my examples), visiting places with astronomy decorations and ornaments. The talk went over well, with lots of questions and discussion during the breaks. Most other towns never really considered any thing but stargazing as the nature of home astronomy. Some attendees noted that their clubs are atrophying because stargazing is heavily curtailed. Light pollution isn't the only or even main enemy! Things like fees and insurance for parks, low social attitude toward astronomy, oppressive seasonal weather, long runs of rain or clouds, air pollution and smog, insects, wild animals, crime action, home and work obligations, breakdown or damage of car, to name a few. One listener was Dr Meech, of University of Hawaii, who on Monday evening (when I got dunked, see below) gave a talk on early astronomy. She mentioned certain astronomy monuments on remote, uninhabited, waterless islands of Hawaii. When I got to the scenes of astronomy motifs on Manhattan, I called her attention to a remote (from Hawaii) island, with no native fresh water, and allegedly uninhabitable. She laughed!
Variable stars ------------ The AAVSO papers discussed, ahem, variable stars. Two themes were of special interest this time. First was the upcoming mass migration of AAVSO starcharts to the Tycho II standard. To track a variable star, AAVSO issues for it a starchart of the variable's field. Certain circumstantial stars have their magnitude ratings marked by which the brightness of the variable can be assessed. Over the decades it was learned that there were several standards for these magnitudes, used on various charts with little correlation among them. With the completion of a definitive allsky photometry to about 11th magnitude, compiled from the HIPPARCOS mission, AAVSO is gearing up to reissue its charts. This process will take many years, maybe until the end of this decade. In the meantime, observers are urged to note in their observing reports the date of the chart and the particular field stars used for each observation. Eventually, when the new chart is issued the old records can be converted into the Tycho II system. The other theme was the ongoing appreciation that stars can alter their physical properties on a timescale of decades. This was most noticed among red giants, long a favorite target of AAVSO members. Such stars were among the earliest variables discovered and now have a deep history of observation. The typical account showed the period of the star's light cycle increased or decreased steadily over the years. That a star can alter its period so quickly, within a human lifetime, indicates massive global evolution of physical conditions inside the star! Some of these are now known; others remain a mystery. Yet it is thru the accumulated records from home astronomers that enables study of these red giants. Secular period alteration was showed also for eclipsing binaries. Here the mechanism is a shift in the size of the orbit due to exchange of mass between the two stars. This was deduced from the longterm records of AAVSO, as built up by home astronomers.
Light Pollution ------------- There were no papers or other formal discussions on light pollution. The corridor banter included much BMWing about local light pollution all over the United States. I happened not to hear too much from other places, except Belgium, which from personal visit there at an AAVSO meeting about 12 years ago, the luminous graffiti is, uh, gross. Attendees from Arizona were disgusted from the disenforcement of the supposedly model regulations in and around Tucson. On paper, they are touted as marvels of light abatement law. In the street they are loosely obeyed and weakly enforced. The problem is that the businesses who violate the rules, by obnoxious billboards, gasoline stations, and suburban housing. are in cahoots with the politicians. The pols depend on the bizmen for support and contributions, so they leave business alone despite the civic mandate to look after the light pollution laws. There were the routine 'interrogations' about how we in the City managed to abate luminous graffiti so well. Most delegates, by personal visits to the City or news from other visitors, know that our skies are as good as (or as bad as) those of an outer suburb. Which to them is incredible given the humongous size and area of the City. They asked how New York is doing with the 'Promise for starry eyes' issued in 1999 as a challenge for the new millennium. New York sort of let the deadline slide to 2012, in time for the Olympics.
Influence of Manua Kea -------------------- The major astronomy presence on Hawaii atop Mauna Kea weighs heavily on outdoor lighting on the Big Island. Legend has it that there are no offensive lights. Bull feathers. To be fair, the overall amount of outdoor illumination is far less than in comparable settings on the mainland. There are just fewer lamps. This does make a dark landscape in the parts I happened to see at night. Being that Hawaii is utterly founded on the automobile, this is not such a problem. For pedestrians, the darkness can be a hazard. There are few sidewalks, poorly lighted curbs and terrain changes, and intense glare from the headlamps of passing cars. The lamps themselfs on buildings and for street lighting are mixed, star-friendly and star-hostile. A store may have a shielded lamp and a bare brilliant one side by side. Some lamppoles are shielded, others are not. Some signs were internally lighted, others have uplighting spilling well beyond them. Stuff like that. So how does Mauna Kea live? Basicly, it's the cloud deck BELOW the peak that caps the upward lights! During the day the peak is scarfed by clouds. We rode right thru them on our tour. In evening, the air chills and the clouds, by some mechanism of weather I'm not sure of, collapse from 5,000 meters to around 3,000 meters. The air above is clear, like really clear. The lights of the towns are smothered by the thick clouds ringing the mountain below the observatories. All in all, Mauna Kea enjoys about 275 nights per year suitable for critical photometry and spectrometry. An other 50ish are so-so, good for plain imaging.
Lighting at the hotel ------------------- For a vacation resort, the Outrigger is not all that lousily lighted at night. It has mushroom pylons of shielded lamps, up-&-out floodlights, and gross spillage of light from the open-air wings of the hotel. These did interfere with our starviewing from the grounds, altho by receding to the very beach, we were in the shade of trees. The area and path lighting, while superficially star-friendly, was actually pretty hazardous. The mushrooms, a meterish in height, were scattered along the paths in no logical order and did not confidently delineate their winding sloping alignments. I found my self walking between two of these lamps, right into grass or sand hidden in the 'valley' between the 'puddles' of light. On Monday night, the 1st of July, I got lost and ended up at a snack kiosk. I asked the server where the luau ground is, for Dr Meech's talk. He pointed toward it and noted it's right beyond those white chairs. Well, there WERE white chairs, and tables, all around this kiosk, so I stepped around them onto what looked like smooth stone. Continuing in darkness between lamppoles, I suddenly found my self calf deep in warm water! I did see a pool a few meters away with a blue basin, underwater lights, and people swimming in it. I did not see a still unoccupied unlighted children's wading pool in front of it. Its bottom was laid with sand of the same color as the footpath around it. During the talk, after finding the luau arena, I took off my shoes and socks. They dried quickly in the cool breezy air. I shook out the sand repeatedly all thru the talk.
High elevation ------------ If you as an astronomer go to Hawaii for any reason, you simply have to take a tour of the observatories on Mauna Kea. This requires ascent to very high elevation and could cause major trouble if you're not prepared for thin air. At the summit (as close to it as you can get 'coz the very peak is left natural) of Mauna Kea you're some 4,200 meters above the sea. You're above 1/3 of the atmosphere, above 2/3 of its water vapor. The chemical mix is the same as at sea level, but each inhale brings you only 2/3 of the oxygen you expect. It is easy, without preparation and caution, to deplete of oxygen and get terribly sick. In such a case there are emergency vans at the peak to shoot you down to lower level, first to the visitor's station and then to sea level. On the other hand, if you be in general good health, do not tire easily while doing normal sea level tasks, and are within your weight-height limits, you'll have the trip of a lifetime. The vans take you first to the Visitor Information Station at 2,700 meter elevation, one that essentially everyone can cope with. You stay here for 1/2 to 3/4 hour to acclimate (and to buy the junk the station sells). There's free juice, chocolate, coffee, and some cookies. For our tour we had a picnic lunch of sandwiches, soda, cookies, trail mix, fruit. Please use the restroom! This is very important!! With the relaxation of outside air pressure, your internal pressure may overwhelm you on the summit. The station is accessible by anyone by car with the roads being paved and marked. It's used for public starviewing and local home astronomers come here. From here to the peak you must be taken by the observatory vans. At the peak the rule is simple. Walk slowly and deliberately. Never run or even jog, like to catch up to a friend. You may leave a heavy shoulder bag in the van for you may tire out by carrying it. The van and all the observatory buildings have oxygen tanks, the little ones with the plastic face mask, and a paramedic. Surprisingly, the sky by eye, according to our hosts, is not as spectacularly spangled with stars as you would expect. The eyes are deficient of oxygen and the vision clouds up. The effect is described like that of the momentarily obscuration of vision when out of breath from exercise or heavy labor. To see the legendary skies of Mauna Kea, you need to inhale fresh oxygen. Hardly anyone does this for being indoors at their computer consoles. All the domes are air conditioned to match the outside temperature and have ventilation to push residual warm air out at dusk quickly. Within the facilities, it's easy to forget you're at high elevation, like by skipping up a stairs. Please don't!
General health ------------ With the thin ultra dry air, your body will lose water and chill off rapidly. Bring a liter bottle of water, bought at the hotel (for a nasty high price of a few dollars!), and sip from it regularly along the way. Don't gulp, just take in a swig and let it trickle down. Top off the bottle at the visitor station and, later for other high elevation trips, from the tap water in your hotel. Don't buy more bottles; keep the one and refill it. Bring also a jacket or sweater. At sea level the air is summery and you may sweat if sitting in the Sun. As you ascend, the air gradually cools off to the point the van turns off the air condition. The vans have jackets for those who missed theirs, but do try to bring your own. If you're concerned about bringing to Hawaii a winter coat for a onetime use, don't. I had a linerless jacket and a long-sleeve shirt (also for Sun protection). I tucked a small blanket from the airplane in my shoulder bag. i never needed it, which I would have wrapped around Indian style under the jacket. The shirt and jacket were plenty. The Sun is thoroly unfiltered by the clean dry air above you. Keep sensitive skin areas out of the Sun. There is a surplus of infrared rays with so little moisture above you. Wear a brimmed hat, long- sleeve shirt and long-leg slacks. Mind the neck and cheeks! I draped a pillow case, from the hotel, under my hat as a shroud around the face, like some desert soldier. One little goof in the advice we got was that of sugar. No one specificly told us to take in sugar, altho the lunch had sweets with it. Body sugar is consumed much faster at elevation and must be replaced. Bring candies. For myself, I felt no ill effects from the Mauna Kea trip, just a nagging want for a deep breath every so often. The walk around the observatories was not at all strenuous, with the hosts keeping the pace slow and easy. The above advice applies to a helicopter (or airplane) tour but far less severely. You're strapped into a seat, not moving around, and the flight is at most a couple hours. The craft is cool, maybe air conditioned. Besides, you're caught up in the excitement of flying.
Visitors Information Center ------------------------- Our Mauna Kea trip was on Wednesday 3 July, all day. We stopped first at the visitor station. This is one of the most awful visitor centers of any observatory I ever saw in my life! It's a house about 10 meters square with side rooms and restrooms and one large central room. The place is crowded with poster exhibits, snack table, souvenir counter, chairs, telescopes, tools and equipment, a video projector, computers. The exhibits looked like high school projects, badly organized, poorly labelled, weakly lighted. The snack table, despite the small daily visitorship, was messy with fixings, utensils, napkins scattered about. The souvenirs were awful, except for the one gorgeous book I mentioned earlier. Just ordinary starbooks, books on mountains, standard starfinders, lots of T-shirts, hats, dolls, coffee mugs. And NO SLIDES! Not even CDs!! The furniture was shoved in odd corners, too crowded to seat all of us on the trip. The very first thing you see on entering the place are several large commercial home telescopes. They're put up front for ease of bringing them outside for the public viewings, but they are a low ambiance front face for Mauna Kea. What the computers were for I never figured out. It wasn't clear if we were even supposed to handle them, altho they were fired up with static screen displays of various celestial images. A nearby collection of rocks, some volcanic, with paper labels rounded out the features to explore here. Definitely this is NOT how to welcome the public to the most prestigious collection of observatories on Earth! I do applaud that the crew was outgoing and attentive. It set out a solar viewing scope, a la Carl Schurz Park, for white light and H- alpha. There were permanent piers for hanging fork-mounted scopes for the home astronomers who come here at night, and a couple of the Sunspotter contraptions sat on the parapet. The substantial shift in latitude was demonstrated by the steep inclination of the pier wedges.
Gemini North ---------- The peak is occupied by, I think, thirteen different facilities with room for three more to come. We visited three of these and cruised around by van to the others. I can't start to describe in detail the observatories! They are quite exciting to see!! First up was Gemini North, pronounced by the hosts 'JEH-mih-nigh', not like the constellation 'JEH-mih-nee'. If you never saw a real large telescope, this thing is GIGANTIC. I did visit, some dozen years ago, the then- largest scope in the world, the six-meter jobbie at Zelenchukskaya, Russia. THAT was HUGE. It's obvious why an orthodox polar-aligned mount would be out of the equation in the design for Gemini North. The 'North' comes from this scope being a twin of Gemini South, in Cerro Pacho'n, Chile. The two do not yet operate in unison but eventually they will. For now they run independently altho on some targets simultaneously. At the time of the visit, the instrument was stacked with crew working at the Nasmyth foci. The dome was closed with interior lights on. The anticipated sheer bulk of the scopes cued me to try for wide angle pictures. I brought along an addon lens for my rangefinder rig. This lens is one of a pair I bought ages ago on a lark; the other in the kit is a portrait lens. Each screws into the camera lens. It's a bit tricky to use the wide angle, almost fisheye, lens because when attached its cell blocks the light meter. I have to take a reading without the lens, set the camera to that reading, screw on the lens, take the picture, remove the lens, reset to auto exposure. In the thin air this is extra hard to keep track of! I expected to goof on some pictures. Amazingly, when I got my slides back, every picture with the fisheye lens came out perfect! Two cute sidelights. One is that Gemini North is running on its original aluminized mirror. Gemini South had to realuminize its mirror twice already. It's location is inhabited by mountain birds. These birds are scared from seeing their magnified reflection in the giant mirror. In defense, they sit in the scope's trusswork and poop all over the mirror! How do you clean such monstrous mirrors? These are monoliths, a single disc 8.1 meters across. The observatory uses Proctor & Gamble Orvix! Plain store-bought Orvix.
Keck I ---- An other pair of scopes, this set being only 85 meters, one short city block, apart on a low podium of offices and utility rooms. We entered only Keck I. If Gemini North was huge, this mother is HUMONGOUS! As yet this (and its twin) is the largest single-aperture optical telescope in the world. The scope was stacked with the dome closed. The lighting here was much dimmer than in Gemini North so the fisheye picture is a bit harder to interpret. In April 2002 native Hawaiians, leftover from the population before Europeans came along, claimed that a certain insect lives only next to the Keck Observatory and must be preserved. Keck wants to place six satellite 'outrigger' scopes, each 1.6-meter aperture, on the insect's habitat to complete its interferometer network. The issue is in state court. It turns out that this insect lives all over Mauna Kea and in other parts of the Big Island. It's blown by winds and seems to thrive where ever it lands. Hence, it looks like Keck will get its way and the insect is not endangered at all. We visited the control rooms of both observatories. All the excitement is gone. In the old days the control room had lots of dials, wheels, knobs, buttons, cables, wires, tools. The staff walked around with clipboards and wrote notes on them. They wore uniforms! Machines whirred and hummed. Now, a control room looks like a computer lab. Clean low desks with assorted computers on them. The operators are in dressdown civvies. They slouch and hunch. Once in a while they tickle the keyboard; the screen washes down; a discdrive light flickers.
Submillimeter Array ----------------- The last facility we examined was the Submillimeter Array, named for the wavelength region it explores and not the aperture. Radio observatories do this, you know? The apparatus consists of ultimately eight six-meter dishes on equatorial mounts and pylons. Six are ready now with an other in the fabrication room we visited. When completed - - they're in partial operation now -- the dishes can be set on eight of twenty-six pods scattered around the fabrication house, which also has the support and control facilities. A crawler hi-low of ample proportions litterally lifts the entire pylon off of one pod, ambles it to the proper other one, and sets it down. The pylon is pin-aligned on the pod and then bolted to prevent the wind from whisking it away. Winds can be VERY strong on Mauna Kea. While we were on site, some of the dishes were under calibration by targeting Venus, then in high sky east of the Sun. Submillimeter radiation is observable in optical daylight and thru most cloud. By the way, this region of the spectrum is between the far infrared and the microwave zones, there being no formal boundary among the regions.
Infrared radiation ---------------- At ground level moisture and water vapor absorbs the infrared spectrum. To study the heavens in infrared, observatories are built in low-humidity sites, like the peaks in Chile, or at very high elevation, like Mauna Kea and La Palma. At Mauna Kea the air has about 1/3 of its sea level humidity, which is not much to begin with. Typical relative humidity at the summit is around 5%. This is why your body moisture is sucked out, helped by the breeze, and you will dehydrate in unprotected exposure. Infrared spans the zone from around 750 nanometers (7,500 angstroms) to a few thousand nanometers, or a couple micrometers. ('microns' is still common.) Altho infrared can obviously be best studied from satellites, it can be explored quite well in certain bands from Earth. There are large windows of infrared that penetrate the air, with absorptions in between. Hence, a telescope on Mauna Kea built for optical studies can be used for infrared. It fact, it's over precise for infrared, but that's OK. Longer wavelengths, in the tens and hundreds of microns, comprise the submillimeter band and the instruments resemble radio telescopes, except the 'mirror' is made of solid steel or aluminum plates. Longer still are the millimeter waves and these are examined with more or less conventional radio telescopes. One boon for infrared and submillimeter observations is that the Sun emits weakly in certain parts of these bands. Work can procede when it is optical daylight, but in the peculiar wavelength of infrared or submillimeter it is always 'night'.
Wavelength and energy ------------------- Depending on the history of a particular part of the spectrum its photons are specified by wavelength, frequency, or energy. They are all equivalent by the properties of photons. The relation is
E = h * f = h * c / lambda
E is energy in joule, h is the 'big' Planck constant (with the 2pi factor embedded), f is frequency in hertz, c is the speed of light, lambda is wavelength in meter. Note that E and f vary directly while lambda is varies inversely to E and f. That is, E ~ f ~ 1/lambda. There are both pluses and minuses for making telescopes for the region longer in wavelength than optical. The plus side is that the 'optics' may be less refined with rougher surface polish. A common rule is that a mirror of 1/8 wavelength error for surface figure yields diffraction-limited imaging at its focus. For light of 500 nanometers (5,000 angstroms), this error amounts to about 63 nanometers. Such a polish does render a crisp mirror finish to the surface. But it is tedious and tricky to get this figure, whence arose the arts of mirror grinding. For an infrared mirror, running at 16 micrometers, the error of 1/8 wave is 2 microns, which to the eye gives a diffuse finish to the surface. It is far easier to make such a mirror. A submillimeter dish operating in 500 micrometers can have a surface error of 63 micrometers. You can feel the roughness with your fingernail and there is no specular reflection; you can not comb your hair by it. Such a mirror can be cast and machined by ordinary mechanics.
Resolution -------- Offsetting the increasing simplicity of making the optics is the loss of resolution. The angular resolution is basicly the wavelength times 206,265 and divided by aperture. If we seek a one arcsecond resolution from an optical telescope, with 500 nanometer radiation, we need a mirror of 103 millimeter aperture. This is a very modest home size instrument! We don't actually get this resolution due to turbulence in the atmosphere, yet the HIPPARCOS spacecraft in outer space had such a small scope and did exquisite astrometry. For the 16 micron infrared band, the one arcsecond resolution requires a 3.3 meter mirror. This is a good size scope! For the 500 micron wavelength the mirror has to be of 103 meters; we got a mother of a scope on our hands. For such large apertures, the road leads to interferometry, long used in radio telescopy. Only in the last ten years has it been possible to try it in the optical range, due to the previous lack of devices for light comparable to those in electronics. The Submillimeter Array, for instance, is a combination of apertures, the dishes, set apart on the pods up to 100 meters apart. Hence it can synthesize a 100 meter aperture for a one arcsecond resolution.
Astrophysics workshop ------------------- A major draw for this convention was the workshop on high-energy astrophysics, run by AAVSO and NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. It ran on July 4th and 5th, Thursday and Friday. This is the second running of this workshop; I missed the first one in spring of 2000. According to the delegates who did attend that one, the present workshop was about the same, updated for the two years advancement in experience and knowledge. Altho it was largely a repeat, every one, old and new, was thoroly enriched by this workshop. Technicly you had to 'apply' for the workshop. This apparently was a NASA formality because I found no one at the convention who was turned down. However, there was some selection for financial aid to attend the conference. I did not request any but I met a couple delegates who were helped bu it. The procedings were similar to those of the main AAVSO paper sessions on July 1 and 2, but the papers were a class-hour long in the stead of the 10 to 15 minutes. There were fewer of them, but each was a full-length lecture. All the presentations were either viewgraphs or computer projection. No ordinary photographic slides.
Litterature --------- As background and homework for the workshop we were issued a thick pack of litterature. This had booklets, brochures, flyers, posters, postcards, and about six CDs. I didn't play any CDs during the convention and none were actually part of the reading chore; we had to peruse only the printed material. Certain items were for the first day of the workshop; the remainder, the second day. Altho the procedings were intended for the home astronomer of modest technical expertise, it really, like really, helped to have such training. This could come from schooling in physics or engineering, work or career, or a self-study regimen. The delegates all seemed to follow the lectures, with some good, even technical, questions after each. I did not encounter anyone who felt overwhelmed or lost, or 'ashamed' that he wasn't up to the level of the talks. It's just that there was a lot of science presumed already. The printed matter was grownup and mature in style, layout, and content. These were not the usual pablum shoveled out to the public, altho any one may get these booklets for the asking. Much of the contents was also embedded in various websites, all accessible by any one. Reading the items before the sessions made the presentations far easier to appreciate. For myself, the major new information was in the details of the high-energy spaceprobes. I knew of the 'big name' craft, but there are many lesser known ones of extreme importance. As a matter of fact, I felt all the more enlightened because I finished reading a couple months ago the book 'New cosmic horizons'. It's the history of the spaceage thru astronomy missions. Hence, my memory was still fresh from that book, which I reviewed for the National Space Society's New York chapter newsletter. The workshop pulled all of this history together quite tightly.
High-energy radiation ------------------- High-energy radiation is electromagnetic radiation of shorter wavelength than ultraviolet. What I noted above about energy and wavelength applies here. Such radiation is collected and sensed by instruments superficially quite odd compared to normal optics. The detectors are developed from those at atomic physics labs. The radiation beyond ultraviolet is divided into two vast regions, X-ray and gamma-ray. There is no formal breakpoint, but most physicists put it in the high tens of kiloelectronvolts of energy. One electronvolt is about 1.6e-19 joule. The terms are legacy from the late 19th and early 20th century. The strange rays discovered by Roentgen were strange indeed; they penetrated soft material, notably human flesh, and imprinted a shadow image on photographs. The 'X' alludes to the strangeness, altho the rays were called Roentgen rays for a while. Gamma rays from history were the third kind of emanation for radioactive atoms. The alpha ray was later found to be a helium nucleus. The beta ray was eventually sussed out as the electron. The gamma ray was nothing more than a very short wavelength photon. But it was very penetrating, requiring massive shielding to protect atomic workers from it. The term gamma ray or gamma particle is also commonly used for any photon, regardless of energy. For all intents and purposes the study of X and gamma radiation from celestial targets is the absolute derivative of the spaceage. Despite the high energy of these photons, our atmosphere is entirely opaque to them. Virtually all studies of these radiations come from spaceprobes with only minor efforts from balloons or high aircraft. Missed out from this workshop were three other emanations from celestial objects. They are neutrino flux, cosmic nuclear bombardment, and gravitational waves. These three are not electromagnetic radiations.
Sources and processes ------------------- Several celestial objects and phaenomena produce X and gamma radiation. They include galactic blackholes, neutron stars, supernova remanents, quasars, and certain binary stars. And, not to be left out, the Sun. Depending on the process of generating the radiation, various parts of a target, like the shell of a supernova, can be seats of assorted energies of radiation. Thus it is vital to monitor these targets in several bands of the spectrum. It is feasible now to do cosmochemistry from mapping the locations and motions of hotspots of radiation at various energies. Unlike optical spectra, those of X and gamma rays are generated by nonthermal processes. The radiation is itself not part of the target's blackbody or Planck radiation. Understanding the mechanisms of production came from close collaboration with atomic labs, where in some cases the radiation can be duplicated. In many situations, the celestial target is the laboratory because the physical environment there is beyond what can be simulated in Earth labs. So the information flow can run from astronomy back to nuclear physics. Electromagnetic radiation is fundamentally produced by charged particles under acceleration. In general, these are protons (hydrogen nuclei) and electrons moved by intense magnetic fields. As the particle is propelled or retarded or made to spiral along the magnetic lines of force, they change their velocity. The change of motion induces an electromagnetic outflow from the particle, which is indicative of the means of acceleration. The spectrum of X- ad gamma- radiation tends to be very irregular and fluctuating with time. The peaks and valleys, still called 'lines' after the analogy with densitometer tracings in the optical spectrum, correspond to the mix of energies in the flux. The current grand mystery source of gamma rays is the 'gamma ray burster'. This is apparently a compact source sitting cosmologicly remotely, billions of lightyears away, yet emitting so strongly that home astronomers can, and do!, catch them in the optical region. Granted, this requires some well-built observatory, but it is within reach of the more affluent and ambitious home astronomer.
Cataclysmic variable stars ------------------------ Cataclysmic variable stars are stars suffering global upheavals or eruptions. This is a large category, encompassing many different behaviors of star. The bulk of cataclysmic variable stars are binaries where the two stars are so close that they jive together. They distort each other gravitationally and magneticly, exchange bulk streams of gas, and radiate fiercely in many high-energy spectral bands. The brighter specimina were discovered decades ago or in the 19th century from their variations of luminous output. The star waxed and waned in brightness as seen by visual observers. In time a good selection of these brighter samples were enrolled in the AAVSO observing program. AAVSO members routinely monitor them. Many are bright enough to monitor is small home telescopes. With the discovery, by satellites, of the energetic radiation from these stars, the role of the home astronomer suddenly blossomed almost overnight. The long record of visual observations were crucial to the study of the high-energy output of these stars. Any theory for the high energy spectrum must also satisfy the optical behavior. In the early 1970s NASA commissioned Einstein, an X-ray observatory in Earth orbit. Einstein needed warning about when certain stars were favorable to inspect. Many stay at low activity, too dim for Einstein or just uninteresting. AAVSO from its inflow of visual observations, could alert the Einstein control office when these stars were starting to act up. Thus, in a genuinely real sense, the home astronomer governed the mission of a spaceprobe! Yes, if anyone asks you how a person can ever take part in space exploration, the answer truthfully is that he has been doing so for over a full generation! This close collaboration between the home and campus astronomer continues to this day. One example cited was that of SS Cygni, a star whose jivings were first noticed in 1896. Since then SS Cygni blows off repeatedly at unpredictable instances with timescale of a couple months. It started to erupt in October of 1996, when the EUVE and Rossi satellites were preparing to observe it. The satellite operators asked AAVSO to advise of the star's actions so they could judge when to start their observing runs. At that moment, many observers were heading to the fall 1996 AAVSO meeting in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Observing was curtailed during the travel to the meeting! When I walked into the conference, the air was filled with banter about it. A bunch of us hightailed it to the observatory on the Holyoke College campus, near the convention motel. We opened the place, under instructions from its director Dr Zissel, and got a good look at SS Cygni. It was in full blown eruption! Data were taken visually thru one scope and photometricly thru an other. These were brought back to the meeting and given to AAVSO Director Mattei. She called the EUVE and Rossi teams to get going on their runs. This episode was the first time SS Cygni was successfully monitored in several spectral bands simultaneously: visual, ultraviolet, and X-ray.
Miscellaneous topics ------------------ Among the lectures was a mix of extra topics, including a tenth- anniversary talk about the Keck Observatory by its Director Chafee. Some papers were on unsolved problems with certain stars which home astronomers can help with. One was a binary star with an intense magnetic field, called a polar. Questions relate to the migration of the magnetic poles relative to the companion star and its influence on the stream of gas from the latter to the former. I and others foreseed that when the pole migrates too far off line, the opposite pole approaches the companion star. There could then be a flipping of the gas stream breaking off of the receding pole and gushing to the approaching one. The lecturer agreed that this is a real possibility but so far this phaenomenon hasn't yet occurred. The fundamental role of spacecraft was repeatedly emphasized. This WAS a NASA cosponsored affair, OK? Over the years, from the maturation of the spaceage in the mid 1960s, the spectrum outside the optical was a prime objective of hundreds of spacecraft. These were commissioned by NASA, Soviet Union, ESA, Japan, and a few other countries. In all the recent probes, several countries join forces to outfit a 'bus' with national instruments, which work together. The Chandra and XMM-Newton were highlighted as the present premier X-ray stations in Earth orbit. The popular press sometimes makes like they are competing satellites: NASA versus ESA. They are complementary vehicles teaming together in many observing runs. In the future there are many probes from the spacefaring nations on the books. With the Internet being the medium of global information exchange to any one, all of the future probes will disseminate their data via the Internet. Home astronomers (and any one else) can harvest the data in furtherance of the astronomy profession. In the evening of July 4th we feasted at a lawn party and saw a fireworks display. It was for Hawaii, a bona fide state, Independence Day. Some of us joked about the beautiful gamma ray bursts!
Volcano tour ---------- The conference included a ground visit to Volcanoes National Park and I myself took a helicopter trip to the volcanos. All the cautions for high elevation travel are valid here but not so severely. We were at most up to 2,500 meters elevation, safe for just about every one. There was one extra precaution, strong shows. You must wear shows that attach firmly to the feet, not flipflops or sandals. The ground in the lava fields is rough, sharp, broken up. It takes very little to slash into your foot thru weak shoes. On top of this is heat. Lava on the trails can be 60C to 80C, causing bad burns thru weak shows. It is more over vital to avoid falls. Walk slowly and carefully. You'll do this on account of the irregular and unfamiliar terrain. Falling on hot sharp stone can inflict major wounds and burns. The day for the ground trip, Saturday 6 July, was cloudy, cool, and breezy. As we walked around the lava, we had the odd experience of being cool, requiring a jacket, from the waist up. From the waist down it felt like we had a room heater under our feet. The ground was hot not so much from absorbing sunlight as from percolating upward heat from the molten rock under it! The trail was marked by yellow tags glued to the rocks and also by orange plastic poles every fifteen or so meters. Stay on the trail! The rock off of the trail may look solid but may be extra hot to burn thru the shoes. Or, worse, it may be a thin weak crust overlaying the liquid rock underneath. Because of the constant movement of the lava, the trail markers have to be reset frequently. The vans roamed thru a caldera, now dormant, and stopped for pictures at various places. We took lunch at the Volcano Lodge and freshened up for the ride back to the Outrigger. At this point in the convention, the final phase, some of us opted to return to Mauna Kea for nighttime stargazing. Some vans loaded with these folk. Others, with me, went back to the hotel. I did not sign up for the night observing for concern about the cold and thin air and for the very late hour of returning to the hotel.
Helicopter ride ------------- With the convention formally over on the evening of the 6th, I had an extra day on Sunday the 7th before my flight back home. Because my travel agent found the airfare to Hawaii so obscenely high, she finagled a discount ride via helicopter. It seems that this ride counted as an airline flight from Kona to Hilo and back, so she made it part of my main flight from New York to Kona to Hilo and return. As such the price the ride was, uh, ZERO because the airfare was the SAME with the ride or without it! I took a similar helicopter ride during the eclipse trip of 1991 and rode in helicopters a few times elsewise. There's really nothing to it. You're firmly strapped into your seat, mine being in front with the pilot and a panorama view out the huge front window. The chopper seats, I recall, five riders. The company picked me up at the Outrigger and took me (and a couple other riders) to the heliport. While waiting my turn the crew gave a safety briefing and handed out life vests. These are like the ones on airplanes packed into sacks you tie around your waist. After the flight, you give back the sack or toss it into a large bin. There were no special requirements for the ride, save that of body weight. At my 78ish kilograms, there was no problem. The company arranges the passengers in the seats according to weight. The seats are about the size of airplane seats, so an overly girthy person may have to be left out with a refund of his fare. As for high elevation, you really can't exert yourself. You're in the seat for the whole flight and the cabin is air conditioned. All in all, the ride is pretty much like a deluxe IMAX show with rumbling seats! The noise and vibration are about those of an intercity bus on a highway. You wear headphones so the pilot can speak to you, but there is no microphone to respond or ask questions. The narration was excellent, with many features of the terrain and lots of history about Hawaii. Because I could not communicate with the pilot, for lack of a mike, I had to take my pictures, erm, on the fly. There were plenty of occasions when the pilot rotated the chopper so riders on both sides could see a certain feature. The volcanos were mighty awesome! The chopper hovered over lava outpourings and lakes and flew thru steam, vapors, and clouds. The only major feature missed, for there was none to be seen on this day, was the actual dripping of lava off cliffs into the Pacific Ocean. We landed in Hilo airport for soft drinks and snacks while the helicopter was refueled, a fifteen minute task. Then we continued the ride. The total trip was about 2-1/2 hours. I got a little extra ride. The courtesy car by mistake dropped me off at the Orchard, a wholly other hotel than the Outrigger! No problem; the lobby desk called the heliport to get the car back for me. The rest of that Sunday the 7th was blessedly breezy and cloudy. I caught up on sleep, chewed thru the workshop litterature, reviewed my notes, took a lazy lunch.