John Pazmino
 2002 July 25
[Original 4-part posting combined with minor editing]
    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 
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 
    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 
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. 
    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.) 
    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. 
    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 
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, 
    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 
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 
    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. 
    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. 
    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 
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.