Report on my Hawaiian Adventure Part 1
Transit Tour Hawaii 2012
Well I have arrived back in Oz and thought I had better write up a little report on my doings over the last week.
I know this may be a little longwinded but it has been such a whirlwind I really needed to get my thoughts down on paper.
Saturday June 2
Left Melbourne at 2pm to fly to Sydney. Uneventful, usual Sydney flight! Transferred to the International Terminal at Kingsford Smith and settled into a 6 hour wait! Unfortunately there are not many flights to Hawaii from Australia so couldn’t be too choosy on which flight. Finally boarded a Hawaiian Airlines 767 for the 10 hour trip to Honolulu. Service with this airline is generally pretty good, though I will make some comments later! Arrived in sunny Honolulu at 11am next morning (but the same date!). I have a 3 hour stop over and given past experience with US airports that should be enough time, but lo and behold I speed through Customs and Immigration in record time, under 15 mins. The airport at Honolulu looks like it was built in the early 70s and has had very little done to it since.
After a quiet beer at one of the bars and a wander around I board the Honolulu – Kona shuttle 717 for the 44 minute flight to the Big Island. On the way we pass Maui and its main peak Haleakala which is impressive at 10000+ feet. When we see the Big Island (Hawai’i itself) a most amazing site greets us. Most people think of Hawaii as lush and green, but this is almost a desert with huge areas of black lava. In the background a huge mountain looms, not as I thought one of the famous volcanoes of Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea, but the much lower Hualalai at “only” 8271 ft.
Landing at the quaint Kona airport is an experience, not for this island the modern airport. All the waiting areas, baggage collections etc are done in open pavilions, very relaxed and informal.
Travel by shuttle to the Waikoloa Marriott which will be our base for the next week.
Sunday June 3
Up early as I have booked a morning snorkeling from Kona. Headed out on a boat for a cruise down the coast. Met a Canadian couple who come from the far north of Canada, they say it is nice to see ocean that isn’t frozen! Donned wetsuit and snorkeling gear and jump into very nice water to be greeted by coral and lots of fish swimming around. Really enjoyed the experience, but got a little seasick on the way back. The shuttle driver who takes me back to the Hotel is a real character, a biker and traveler who has been to Australia many times and met John Howard 3 times. Talked the whole way back, couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Arrive back and meet my roommate for the week who is Bill from Bonnyville in Alberta, Canada. He is an amateur astronomer and sometime imager who drives oil trucks in the frozen north for a living. We hit it off pretty well.
I pick up my welcome pack from the Sky and Telescope people. Consists of a pair of eclipse glasses, a name tag, program and a can of oxygen to take to the summit! Meet Robert Naeye (editor of S&T) who tells me I am the only Aussie. He wonders why I came all this way so I explained about the weather in Colac this time of year and as I was going to have to travel, may as well be in for a pound!
There is an evening cocktail reception for all the people on the tour so I get to meet a few more people. Seems an interesting mix. Mostly Americans with a few Canadians. Also individuals or couples from Mexico, Colombia, Hong Kong and UK. An interesting mix of professional astronomers, amateurs both visual and imagers and interested non astro types.
Monday June 4
The day is taken up with talks. The 2 mains ones are on the history and science of transits and the other on the Cassini Mission to Saturn. Very interesting and well presented by Bob Naeye.
Before these we get a briefing from the organizers on what is expected tomorrow. Unfortunately the weather is not looking good with strong possibilities of snow, or rain on the summit and 100+kph winds.
During the lunch break in the classes we get out some scopes and set them up on the lawn out front for an impromptu Solar Star Party. Most people have gone with white light filters so my little SM 60 attracts a bit of interest as one of the few Ha scopes in the group. I have another test run imaging which confirms that I have some dust bunnies on my sensor of the DMK41.
Day finishes some cocktails in the hotel, during which I meet a couple who kindly lend me some sensor cleaning fluid so I have a go at cleaning that evening.
Bill is keen to have a go at seeing Omega Centauri, so after dinner we get out his SWED80 and tripod and I show it to him. Moon is up and it is low, but he is very impressed. Showed him a few other southern objects to round out the night.
Tuesday June 5 TRANSIT DAY!
The day is clear with some minor clouds, but a fair bit seems to hang around the summit of Mauna Kea.
After packing up the gear we board a bus for the trip to the summit. Our driver is also a tour guide so she is able to tell us about the landscape as we drive along. The interesting thing is that for much of the journey we could just as well be in Australia! Gum trees and grassland is the dominant view for the early part of the trip. We drive up the saddle road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and turn off towards Mauna Kea’s summit at about 7000ft. The landscape starts to get much more barren as we gain height and reach the Visitors Centre at 9200ft to stop and acclimatize. The thin air is noticeable at this height but not unpleasant. There seem to be lots of people moving around and scopes being set up. We jump on a bus and head for the summit, arriving there with over an hour before the transit. We are dropped next to the Keck Building.
After getting off the bus the thin air is immediately noticeable. We are at nearly 14000ft and only 60% as much oxygen as at sea level. The summit area is best described as lunar. No vegetation just dry volcanic cinder. The views are SPECTACULAR! We can see Mona Loa and the island of Maui. Lots of clouds but thankfully they are all below us. The wind is not a strong as predicted but still about 60-70kph. We explore the area around the Keck and Subaru scopes and go into the visitor’s gallery of Keck 1. What an impressive piece of machinery.
We then jump back on the bus and move a little higher and setup near the University of Hawaii 0.6metre scope to observe the first contact. With the wind I elect to set up my scope quite low and use a 1.25litre bottle of water to help weigh it down. As the sun is nearly directly overhead and I am using a camera tripod getting it all lined up is not easy but I manage it with a few minutes to spare. The wind also makes imaging difficult so I elect to only do 1st and 2nd contact visually.
There are several white light scopes set up nearby and their operators start calling first contact, but nothing is visible in my Ha scope. It is about another minute before the first sign appears in my scope. It is a big thrill to finally see what I have travelled all this way to observe. As Venus slowly edges into the suns disc several other people ask to have a look through my scope. I am happy to oblige and pleased when they compliment the quality of the view in my little SM60. I do find out that standing up after being bent down observing causes the thin air to become obvious as you get lightheaded very easily.
As second contact approaches I am looking out for the “black drop” effect. As Bill has a 80mm SW refractor with white light filters, we compare the view. Interestingly, the black drop appears more obvious in his scope than with the SM60. Also I note that others are calling second contact well before it becomes obvious in my scope.
We then decide that it is probably time to head down to the visitor centre. We had been advised to “buddy up” so four of us, myself, Bill, Nancy from Minnesota and Dale from LA, decide to set up together. That way we can watch each others gear. While most people there are fellow observers, with over 500 people there, you cannot be too careful! So we setup in the corner of the car park with the SM60, Bills SW80 and Nancy has a little Orion 4.5” Newt travel scope. Interestingly there are very few other Ha scopes there so mine get a lot of interest. There are plenty of members of the public who are keen to be involved and it is a lot of fun being involved in outreach.
I have a couple of goes at imaging. As I am only using a camera tripod I decide to limit AVI’s to 5 seconds, but from what I could see, they look pretty good! One of the difficulties of this position is that it is not possible to view 3rd and 4th contact from here as it will be behind the mountain, so the organizers tell us that conditions back at the hotel are looking good and they will run a bus there for those wanting to observe it there. So we pack up and head of for the 1.5 hours trek back to the Marriott.
Once we arrive, we join plenty of other observers on the lawn near the beach with about an hour to go before 3rd contact. It is fun showing the transit to other hotel guests. I get a look through an Astro Physics Starfire 130 which is awesome and the Mexican couple are busy imaging with a SM90 Double Stacked. I have a quick go at imaging the lead up to 3rd, but seeing is noticeable poorer with the sun getting low and the thicker atmosphere to I again concentrate on visual. Again the white light observers are calling out 3rd and I can clearly see the disc fully surrounded by light. I am thinking that Ha versus white light gives some different timing and wonder if anyone else has noticed this?
After 4th, the planet is no longer visible and the 40 or so observers gathered there applause and cheer loudly. All I can say was it was a thrill to see such an event from such a beautiful location.
We mill around for an hour or so after the transit comparing notes and experiences of the day. After packing up and getting tidied up the group gathers in one of the ballrooms for the after transit dinner. A very nice buffet is served and I enjoy meeting up with some acquaintances from the tour and meeting some new ones. The last observers from the mountain don’t arrive back until 8-30pm.