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Ianuali (January) Sky Watch 2018

by Imiloa Astronomy Center on December 22nd, 2017

By Chad Kālepa Baybayan & Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‛i

Astronomical Explorations of 2017:
From the completion of the epic voyage of Hōkūle‘a to the naming of an asteroid detected from Hawai’i, and the latest findings of gravitational waves in space, 2017 has been an exciting year for astronomical explorations on Earth and in space.

In June of 2017, the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage of Hōkūle‘a culminated with reentry into Hawaiian waters, bringing to a close the widely publicized and closely monitored three-year international voyage. On its voyage around the world, navigating by the light of the stars and other clues from nature, Hōkūleʻa sailed an impressive 44,000 nautical miles, stopped at over 150 ports, visited 23 countries, and enlisted approximately 250 crewmembers. This canoe is currently conducting a Mahalo Sail around the islands in Hawaiʻi.


`Oumuamua (Photo Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

ʻOumuamua, meaning scout or leader, is the first observed asteroid to visit Earth from interstellar space. Its brief visit to our solar system was only recently discovered ten weeks ago by University of Hawaiʻi researcher, Rob Weryk, using the universityʻs Pan-STARRS telescope on the summit of Haleakalā. This seven-football field length asteroid is now on a path that is taking it rapidly away from Earth and the sun to continue its journey into deep space. According to researchers the asteroid could be rocky with a surface that possesses a high metal content. ʻOmuamua’s name was conceived through collaborative efforts between University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, which have adopted a goal of assigning Hawaiian names to all Hawaiʻi based astronomical discoveries. (Read more on the naming of ʻOumuamua here). 


An artist’s impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars, NASA.

Gravitational waves, which are ripples in space predicted by Einstein in his theory of relativity, were first observed by astronomers and physicists in 2015.  Researchers have since detected other gravitational waves and have assumed that the collision of black holes produce the strongest gravity waves.  However, on August 17th of 2017, a historic discovery was made of gravitational waves emitted from a Kilonova, a neutron star merger, a type of event that had been theorized but never observed. Astronomers can now use this gravitational wave detection to locate light emitted from the collision.  This revolutionary discovery marks a new era and a whole new way for astronomers to observe the universe.


Navigating the night sky with Hawaiian Star Compass:
The circle of the horizon gives the physical shape to the Hawaiian Star Compass which has been discussed in previous columns. To make the compass functional the navigator memorizes the rising and setting points of key stars. To organize the night sky the celestial sphere is divided into four even sections, which are identified with a specific “starline.”   A recent creation of the voyaging community, the four starlines follow traditional Hawaiian themes and are used as a heuristic technique to learn and acquire navigational skills.

Starlines are a collection of bright stars and constellations that line up north to south.

The four starlines are, Kekāomakaliʻi (The Bailer of Makaliʻi), Kaiwikuamoʻo (The Backbone), Mānaiakalani (The Heavenly Fishing Line) and Kalupeakawelo (The Kite of Kawelo). Because each is most prominent in the night sky at a particular time of year, they also serve as seasonal starlines for winter, spring, summer, and fall.  


The winter starline, Kekāomakaliʻi, is in the shape of a canoe bailer, scooping up the stars on the eastern horizon and emptying them out in the west during its nightly transit across the sky. The scoop part of the bailer is made up of the northernmost bright star Hōkūlei, Capella, in the constellation Auriga. Hōkūlei rises in the star house Manu Koʻolau. The bailer arcs towards the eastern horizon and the constellation Nāmāhoe (The Twins), Gemini, and the two bright stars Nānāmua (Looking Forward), Castor; and Nānāhope (Looking Back), Pollux.


The starline turns south towards the direction of the constellation Puana (Little Dog), Procyon, and continues southward to the brightest star in the night sky, ʻAʻā (Burning Brightly), Sirius. The handle of the bailer is made up of ʻAʻā and the second brightest star in the night sky, Kealiʻikonaikalewa (Chief of the Southern Skies), Canopus.


The scoop of the bailer is filled with visible and identifiable constellations. Closest to ʻAʻā is Kaheiheionākeiki (Cats Cradle), Orions Belt, a Hawaiian string game played on the fingers of island children. The northernmost star of the three that forms the belt of Orion, Mintaka, marks the eastern star house, Hikina. Moving northwest and through Orion’s Belt will lead you to Kapuahi (Sacred Fire), Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull. Continuing along the northwest direction is the fuzzy constellation, Makaliʻi, Pleiades, in the eastern evening sky which also marks the beginning of the Makahiki season, a time when the Hawaiian chiefly class collected tribute and the commoner class celebrated with athletic competitions.


Thus, the four starlines are used as contemporary tools for learning and organizing the night sky in the context of Hawaiian culture.


January’s night sky:
The night sky of 2018 starts off with another supermoon on January 1st.  As mentioned in last month’s column, the moon does not orbit around Earth in a perfect circle; it orbits in an ellipse or oval shape, which means that the moon’s distance from Earth changes as it orbits.  When the moon’s distance is closest to Earth, that special location on the moon’s orbit is known as perigee. A supermoon occurs when the moon is full and lines up with the perigee.


As the starline of Kekāomakali‘i rises in the east, the starline of Kalupeakawelo will be setting in the west. Just to the east of Kalupeakawelo, beneath ‘Iwakeli‘i (Chief Frigate Bird) Cassiopeia, will be the faint but beautiful Andromeda Galaxy. This is the only large galaxy visible to the human eye.


There will be two full moons in January; one on the first day of the month and one on the last. When this happens the second full moon is often referred to as a blue moon even though the moon’s color remains the same. On January 31st, the blue moon will also coincide with the moon’s perigee, giving January its second supermoon. To top it off, between 3pm and 5pm (HST), the moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow in a lunar eclipse, which is often referred to as a “blood moon.” On January 31st, look forward to viewing a “super blue blood moon.”


Early Morning Observations  

The early morning hours provide a very different view of the sky. Throughout January, sunrise occurs near 7 am, giving early risers a beautiful view of the sky and the famous Nāhiku (Big Dipper) will be in the northeast direction. On January 6th, Mars and Jupiter will come together in a conjunction and the planets will appear to be almost on top of each other. The best viewing time is 5 am.


The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is a world-class center for informal science education located at the UH Hilo campus, showcasing astronomy and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration, guided by the light of the stars. Chad Kālepa Baybayan ( serves as Navigator-in-Residence and Emily Peavy ( as Planetarium Technician Support Facilitator.

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