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Feb 5 18

‘Imiloa Celebrates 12 Years with a FREE Birthday Pā‘ina

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

Join us at ‘Imiloa for a fun, free family day celebrating Hawaiian Language

Hilo, Hawai‘i – ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center invites the community to come help us celebrate our FREE 12th Birthday Pā‘ina on Sunday, February 25, from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm.  This year’s theme, Celebrating Ōlelo Hawai‘i, will feature exciting outdoor and indoor activities for the entire ‘ohana centered around the theme of Hawaiian Language. ‘Imiloa is thrilled to team up with organizations from across the island to share Hawaiian language and practices of Hawaiian culture that thrive in our community.


‘Imiloa is very grateful to KTA Super Stores for sponsoring this event and allowing the center to be open free of charge for this fun filled day!


Birthday offerings will include free birthday cake to the first 1,000 visitors, scavenger hunt, hula lessons, games, native garden activity, engaging activities in ‘Imiloa’s exhibit hall, special shows for family and kids in the planetarium, science explorations, various displays and activities hosted by community partners, such as UH Hilo College of Hawaiian Language, Maunakea Observatories and much more! KTA Super Stores will offer a food tent with ‘ono food and beverage options available for purchase throughout the day. It is ‘Imiloa’s hope that everyone who visits the Center during this special Birthday Pā‘ina will leave having learned new Hawaiian words, the names of native plants and more about Hawai‘i’s rich culture.


“As a bilingual center, ‘Imiloa strives to share our ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian Language) with both visitors and locals alike through our exhibits, interactions and programming. We’re thrilled to observe our 12th year of exploration at ‘Imiloa with the theme of ‘Celebrating ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i’ — which is dedicated to recognizing and honoring Hawaiian Language,” says Ka’iu Kimura, Executive Director of ‘Imiloa. “‘We send our warmest mahalo to KTA Super Stores for sponsoring ‘Imiloa’s 12th Birthday Celebration. KTA Super Stores continues to play a significant role in supporting ‘Imiloa’s cultural and educational outreach, and has been a huge supporter from the very beginning.”


“Happy 12th Birthday ´Imiloa Astronomy Center!  Twelve years of ground-breaking, cutting-edge discoveries have enriched our Hawai´i island community and inspired generations of explorers and innovators,” says Toby Taniguchi, President and Chief Operating Officer of KTA Super Stores.  “KTA Super Stores is delighted to support such an advanced and state-of-the-art center focused on life-long learning.”


As a special birthday gift to the community and for one day only, ‘Imiloa will be offering $10 off all levels of membership, both for new and renewing members. This will be reserved for memberships purchased on-site on Sunday, February 25. Current members are welcome to take advantage of this discount and renew their memberships early.


For details on ‘Imiloa’s 12th Birthday Pā‘ina, visit and follow ‘Imiloa’s Facebook page.


About ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center:

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is a world-class center for informal science education located on the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. Its centerpiece is a 12,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall, showcasing astronomy and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration guided by the light of the stars. The visitor experience is amplified with programming using ‘Imiloa’s full-dome planetarium and 9 acres of native landscape gardens. The center welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors each year, including 10,000+ schoolchildren on guided field trips and other educational programs. ‘Imiloa is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off of Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, visit or call 808- 932-8901.

Jan 30 18

$200,000 Gift to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center Honors Patricia Ann Weber Lee

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

The prominent native garden in front of the restaurant at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center has been named in memory of Patricia Ann Weber Lee through a $200,000 gift made by her husband, Francis Kainoa Lee, and their sons, Kainoa Christopher Lee and Keali‛iaea Kenneth Lee on September 20, 2017.  With this generous gift, ‘Imiloa is launching a campaign to fund the creation of an outdoor “classroom” to educate visitors about the natural and cultural history of the unique ecosystem represented by this garden.


The Patricia Ann Weber Lee Kῑpuka Garden is located in front of ‘Imiloa’s Sky Garden Restaurant, a unique setting which provides an unrivaled view of Hilo Bay and the Hāmākua Coastline.  The site features an oasis of native plants retained during the center’s 2004-2006 construction–thus the name “kīpuka.”  The garden is filled with 50-100 year old hala and ‘ohi‘a trees which grew on top of the 1881 lava flow that covered the Mokaulele region of Hilo, famed in legends and chants for its multicolored ‘ohi‘a lehua blossoms.  Beneath the garden lies its most dramatic feature, a partially collapsed lava tube. 

‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura comments, “What a privilege for ‘Imiloa to receive this generous gift in honor of Pat Lee, remembered by so many of us on the Big Island as our ‘Aunty Pat.’  We look forward to using the Lee family gift to begin transforming our native landscape gardens into an outdoor extension of our exhibit hall, a vision we’ve long aimed to fulfill.”


Patricia Ann Weber Lee (1946-2016) was born and raised in Philipsburg, NJ.  She graduated from Juniata College in Pennsylvania, then traveled to Hawai‛i in 1969 in preparation to join the newly established Peace Corps.  She became captivated by Hawai‛i and its unique culture and landscape, and ended up deciding to remain here, working at various jobs on O‘ahu, including serving as a dorm parent at Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama campus. 


In 1974, she married Francis Kainoa Lee, a native of Hilo. In 1986 Pat and Kainoa settled in Waimea on Hawai‛i Island, where she began a 20+year career with Parker Ranch, gave birth to two sons in Honolulu, taught Sunday School, and pursued her passion for gardening.  It was Pat who was responsible for encouraging Kainoa, an avid paddler, to attend an early organizational meeting for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which ultimately led to his participation as a crew member on the first historic voyage of the iconic sailing canoe, Hōkūle‛a in 1976.  Kainoa Lee would sail a total of 4 voyages between 1976 and 1995.  In May 2017, as the Hōkūle‛a’s 3-year Worldwide Voyage was coming to an end, he traveled to Tahiti, where he was honored, along with fellow crew members from the original 1976 voyage.


‘Imiloa’s eventual vision for the Patricia Ann Weber Lee Kῑpuka Garden is to construct walkways and steps leading down to a lava-paved education terrace where visitors will be able to look into the lava tube and learn about the cultural and natural history of the kῑpuka and the plant communities that inhabit or survive lava events.  A landscape plan for the enhancement of the garden has been commissioned from Randall Monaghan, the landscape architect responsible for the original design of ‘Imiloa’s 5 acres of native gardens, featuring one of Hawai‘i’s largest collections of endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian-introduced plants.  The estimated cost for construction is $500,000 and includes communications infrastructure to provide digital support for the outdoor learning station.


To augment the Lee Family gift and help complete the educational vision for ‘Imiloa’s kῑpuka garden, please consider a tax-deductible contribution to ‘Imiloa through the University of Hawai‘i Foundation at


For more information, contact Margaret Shiba, Director of Institutional Advancement, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at 808.932.8921 or


The University of Hawai‘i Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawai‘i System. The mission of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation is to unite donors’ passions with the University of Hawai‘i’s aspirations by raising philanthropic support and managing private investments to benefit UH, the people of Hawai‘i and our future generations.


Jan 28 18

Pepeluali (February) Sky Watch

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

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

To navigate the seas using only the stars and other clues from nature, one needs to learn three essential functions: (1) orienting the canoe, (2) determining the canoe’s position at sea, and (3) making landfall.


In previous articles, we have taken readers on a wayfinding journey, starting off with using the Hawaiian star compass to orient the canoe. To recap, unlike the conventional magnetic compass, the star compass serves as a conceptual framework for the navigator.  By locating the sun, moon, stars, wind, and swells along the canoe’s perimeter as bearing points on the star compass, the navigator derives directional clues which orient the canoe to the horizon. Once determined, the navigator needs to commit the information to memory for the duration of the voyage since the star compass is non-magnetic; it is, rather, a mental device that orients and determines direction for a canoe at sea. Suffice it to say, wayfinding is a cerebral process that engages the intellectual capacity of the navigator.


For this column, we will address the second skill set, determining the position of a canoe at sea. The route between Hawaiʻi and Tahiti offers the best example for explaining how position can be determined. Tahiti is approximately 2,250 nautical miles from Hilo and lies in the direction of Nāleo Malanai, south-southeast on our star compass. The general heading to Tahiti lies in a north-south direction and position can be determined based upon nautical miles or degrees of latitude traveled.


The process for determining nautical miles traveled is called dead reckoning and can be expressed as an algebraic equation: S (speed) x T (time) = D (distance). Thus, a canoe traveling at 5 knots (speed) for 12 hours (time) would have traveled 60 nautical miles. On board Hōkūleʻa, speed is determined by counting timing marks (bubbles or objects on the water) as they float from the front ʻiako (cross piece) to the back ʻiako, a distance of 42.2 feet. The navigator needs to memorize a timing cadence (“one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand,” etc.) so that he/she can be accurate in measuring a timing mark.


A table is then created to allow the crew to compute speed quickly: 3 seconds = 8.5 knots; 4 seconds = 6.5 knots; 5 seconds = 5 knots; 6 seconds = 4 knots. The navigator estimates speed by dividing the number 25 by the amount of seconds it takes a timing mark to float 42.2 feet, front ʻiako to back ʻiako. For example, 25 divided by 5 seconds = 5 knots of speed. The navigator checks the speed throughout the day and computes the distance traveled at the end of a 12-hour cycle, sunrise or sunset. This process is repeated and recorded for the entire length of the journey until landfall is made.


The other way to determine latitude is through various techniques involving the measurement of stars when they are at meridian, the highest altitude that a star reaches as it crosses from Hikina (East) to Komohana (West).  One technique is using your hands; palms facing out or in. When using palms facing out, the thumb rests on the horizon and the index finger above it. You should be able to measure an altitude of about 20˚ degrees.  With the palms facing in technique, the lower straight line of the hand rests along the horizon and the thumb extended above it. You should be able to measure an altitude of 10˚ degrees.









The latitude between Hawaiʻi and the equator can be computed by estimating the altitude of Hōkūpa‘a (Fixed Star), also widely known as “the North Star” or Polaris, which is positioned close to celestial ‘Ākau (North). In Hawaiʻi, by using the palms out position, Hōkūpa‘a should be one-hand span, 20˚ degrees, above the horizon . If measuring Hōkūpa‘a at 10˚ degrees altitude, one should be at 10˚ degrees north latitude. However, as one approaches the equator, clouds on the horizon will obscure Hōkūpa‘a. It will also not be visible in the sky south of the equator. In both of these situations, other stars will need to be used.  It is important to note that varying human hand sizes, will affect the determination of altitude.  Wayfinding is an approximation using visual clues and human senses.  Try finding Hōkūpa‘a tonight and measuring its altitude using your palm out position; depending on the size of your hand, you should get a measurement of one-hand span above the horizon.

The third skill set (making landfall) will be addressed in next month’s column.

February Night Sky
Before introducing the February sky, it is noteworthy to highlight an exciting event in the early morning of Wednesday, January 31st. That day will mark the second full moon of the month, which is often referred to as a “blue moon.” The moon will also happen to be in a unique position on its orbit known as perigee, where it is closest to Earth. When the moon is full at the same time it’s at perigee we often refer to it as a “supermoon”.  


Additionally, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Jan. 31st, the moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow in a lunar eclipse, often called a “blood moon”.  So, be on the lookout for a “super-blue-blood moon” from the evening of January 30th to the early morning of January 31st.  In Hawai‘i, the eclipse will start around 2 am. As the moon starts to get redder, totality will begin just before 3 am with maximum eclipse occuring at 3:30 am. The total eclipse will end at 4 am and the moon will be completely out of the Earth’s shadow by 5 am.


As aforementioned, Hōkūpa‘a (the North Star) is famous across the northern hemisphere; many children in scouting organizations are taught how to find it in the sky using the Big Dipper. However, there is a common misconception that it is the brightest star in sky. There are actually about forty-seven brighter stars in the whole night sky. The significance of Hōkūpa‘a is that it is on the rotational axis of the Earth, which means the star will always appear in exact North while you are in the Northern hemisphere. Regardless of seasons, the star remains in the same position, with the rest of the stars and celestial objects moving around it. Hence the name Hōkūpa‘a, meaning “Fixed Star” or “Stuck Star”.

Throughout February, the brightest star,  A‘ā (Burning Brightly), also known as Sirius or “the Dog Star”, will be visible in the early evening. This super bright star will be rising in Manu Malanai, the South East horizon, in the early evening. The second brightest star, Keali‘iokonaikaewa (The Chief of the Southern Heavens) also known as Canopus, will also be visible near Hema (South). These two bright stars form the handle of the starline Kekāomakali‘i (The Bailer of Makali‘i). Just as a bailer for a canoe scoops out water, this bailer scoops up the stars from Hikina(East) and pours them out into Komohana (West).

In particular the bailer is scooping up the bright shape of Kaheiheionākeiki (The Cats Cradle of the Children) also known as Orion. Beneath the famous three stars (known as the Orion’s Belt) that cut through the middle of Kaheiheionākeiki lies the gray fuzziness of M42, the Orion Nebula, arguably the most famous stellar nursery in the sky.

Setting in the western sky will be the “W” shape of  ‘Iwakeli‘i (Chief Frigate Bird), also known as Cassiopeia. Just beneath ‘Iwakei‘i will be the faint Andromeda galaxy. To the naked eye, the galaxy appears to be a small, faint, blurry smudge in the night sky. About 2.5 million light years away from Earth, Andromeda is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way.


Early Morning Observations:
Throughout February, sunrise occurs near 7 am, giving early risers a beautiful view of the sky. During these early morning hours the planets of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn will line up in the south east, in front of the Milky Way bulge.

Jan 20 18

Where Do Baby Stars Come From?

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

‘Imiloa presents Dr. Steve Mairs, Support Astronomer at James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
Date: Fri. Feb. 16
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Cost: $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply)

Deep within the cold dust and gas which resides in our Milky Way Galaxy, a dramatic story is unfolding: the birth of stars. Understanding the formation and evolution of stars is not only quintessential to describing the visible universe but it is also important for recognizing and appreciating our origins. The Sun and planets did not always exist and it is through comparing careful observations of our solar neighborhood to cutting-edge theoretical simulations that we are able to investigate our cosmic history and perceive our Solar System in the broader context of the Galaxy and, indeed, the universe.  Learn where baby stars originate and the current theory of star formation at ‘Imiloa’s Maunakea Skies talk, presented by Dr. Steve Mairs, Support Astronomer at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on Friday, February 16, 2018 at 7:00pm.


Dr. Mairs will highlight his research in capturing submillimetre light to probe cold dust in the process of forming stars. Situated atop Maunakea, JCMT is the largest single dish telescope of its kind. 


Since 2015, Dr. Mairs has been working with a large group of astronomers around the world using the JCMT to conduct observational programs known as the JCMT Transient Survey. By the end of 2018, they aim to obtain the deepest ever maps of eight nearby stellar nurseries. Their primary goal is to detect brightness variations around forming stars in order to investigate how these brand new suns are currently gaining their mass. 


Dr. Mairs will share images of star forming regions in the directions of famous constellations like Orion, Perseus, Ophiuchus, and Serpens and compare them to advanced computer simulations at the forefront of the field. He will also show how stellar growth spurts are measured in real time and highlight observations of a “twinkling” young star, EC53, which confirm the existence of a newly discovered planet. 


Dr. Steve Mairs is a support astronomer at JCMT. He received his PhD in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. For the past 6 years, his focus has been on researching the connection between the largest and the smallest scales in the Milky Way Galaxy, specifically in the context of the Solar System’s origin. Prior to relocating to Hilo in September, 2017, Dr. Mairs was the outreach coordinator for the observatory at the University of Victoria. Passionate about science education and outreach, he has hosted many public events and has taught thousands of students of all ages.


Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for ‘Imiloa members (member level discounts apply). Pre-purchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 808-932-8901.


About ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center:

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is a world-class center for informal science education located on the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. Its centerpiece is a 12,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall, showcasing astronomy and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration guided by the light of the stars. The visitor experience is amplified with programming using ‘Imiloa’s full dome planetarium and 9 acres of native landscape gardens. The center welcomes approximately 100,000 visitors each year, including 10,000+ schoolchildren on guided field trips and other educational programs. ‘Imiloa is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off of Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, visit or call 808- 932-8901.

Jan 5 18

Secrets from Vesta and Ceres: Results of NASA’s Dawn Mission

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

‘Imiloa presents Dr. Schelte Bus, Deputy Director at NASA IRTF
Date: Fri. Jan. 19
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Cost: $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply)

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft is on a mission to study Vesta and Ceres, the two largest members of the asteroid belt. These diverse asteroids offer crucial scientific clues into the birth of our Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago. Learn more about this epic quest for knowledge in ‘Imiloa’s Maunakea Skies talk on Friday, January 19 at 7:00 p.m. with Dr. Schelte “Bobby” Bus, Deputy Director at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Maunakea.


 Although the massive asteroids Vesta and Ceres both hold similarities that help us understand the formation of our Solar System, they have many differences in their geological makeup. Vesta has a rocky body, while Ceres is believed to contain large amounts of water and has an icy surface. Vesta’s south pole contains a massive crater measuring 285 miles across and 8 miles deep caused by a giant collision that gouged out one percent of its volume! This collision blasted out over a half a million cubic miles of rock into outer space. Scientist believe that this single collision is the cause for about 5 percent of all meteorites discovered on Earth.


After ten plus years of exploration, the Dawn Mission is nearing its end. The amazing images and measurements that have returned from this mission are leading scientists to a better understanding of what we see today in our Solar System.  Dr. Bus will share highlights from the Dawn Mission, paired with a discussion on the ground-based observations, like those made at NASA IRTF on Maunakeawhich have helped enhance the scientific return from this exciting mission of discovery.

Artists concept of NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft (


Dr. Bus received his doctorate in planetary science in 1999 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In 2000, he moved to Hilo to accept a position with the University of Hawai‘i’s Institute for Astronomy as a staff astronomer for NASA IRTF. He became Deputy Director of NASA IRTF in 2017. His research focuses on the physical properties of asteroids and how processes such as collisions alter the asteroid belt, helping to feed material like meteoroids and Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) into near-Earth space.


Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. General admission tickets are $10 and $8 for ‘Imiloa members (member level discounts apply). Pre-purchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 808-932-8901.


Dec 22 17

Ianuali (January) Sky Watch 2018

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

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.

Dec 7 17

Fantastic Creatures on Display at ‘Imiloa for the Holidays

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, where a special origami-bedecked holiday tree went on display on Tuesday, November 27.  The tree features a unique collection of mythic and fantastic creatures folded by origami artist volunteers from across the U.S. and abroad.  These models were originally displayed on the 2007 Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.


Colorful mermaids, unicorns, angels, centaurs, Pegasus’s, dragons, and even a gargoyle and Medusa can be found dancing among the branches of the lighted 7’ tree in the ‘Imiloa atrium.  The tree is topped with a dramatic red Kusudama Star folded especially for ‘Imiloa by Dr. Julien Lozi, Senior Optical Scientist at Subaru Telescope.


The intricately folded fantastic creatures are part of an origami collection generously donated to ‘Imiloa two years ago by Al Miyatake. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Miyatake was a friend of the Center and longtime Japan Airlines manager who for many years created an annual origami holiday tree at the JAL check-in counter at Kona International Airport.  Assisting in his efforts were his mother-in-law, Kyoko Kondo, and many talented friends from Origami USA, the New York-based national origami society which organizes volunteer folders to decorate the tree which has become a nearly 50-year holiday tradition at the American Museum of Natural History.


Margaret Shiba, ‘Imiloa’s Director of Institutional Advancement, comments that “Our holiday tree this year is dedicated to the memory of Al Miyatake, who passed away in Kona in March.  As an origami enthusiast, Al worked tirelessly to share the now-universal art of paper folding with people everywhere, and we invite the community to stop by and admire the legacy he has left here at ‘Imiloa.”  Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura adds, “This year’s tree has another special meaning for ‘Imiloa because of the professional connections we enjoy with our programming partners at the American Museum of Natural History in New York!  What a privilege to have inherited their origami models and their holiday tree tradition!”


‘Imiloa’s holiday tree will be on display into January in the atrium. The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is open to the public Tuesday-Sunday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. For more information call 932-8901.

Nov 30 17

Feel, See and Color the Universe

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

‘Imiloa presents Dr. Gordon K. Squires, Thirty Meter Telescope  (TMT)
Date: Fri. Dec. 15
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Cost: $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply)

Scientists have teamed up with artists to create astonishingly detailed visuals to help us better understand complex astronomical discoveries—presenting science as stunning works of art that allow us to view astronomy through a different perspective. Learn more about the fascinating connections between art and science at ‘Imiloa’s Maunakea Skies talk on Friday, December 15 at 7:00 p.m. with Dr. Gordon K. Squires, Lead of Communications, Education and Public Outreach at the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).


Dr. Squires will lead the audience through fascinating examples of how his team creates visualizations to illustrate revolutionary scientific discoveries. A recent discovery that he will discuss is how scientists have detected the gravitational waves from a neutron star merger, which is how gold originated in the universe. Additionally, in March of this year, astronomers confirmed the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a unique planetary system which hosts 3 habitable planets orbiting a small cool star. For both of these discoveries Dr. Squires and his team worked to create stunning visualizations to illustrate the “art of gravitational waves” and the “art of exoplanets”. Combining art and science in this way allows us to understand these discoveries, and allows us to imagine what we would witness if we could physically travel to these systems in person.

Pictured: A Kilonova, neutron star collision: the predicted source of all gold in the universe. Kilonovae were theorized but not observed until earlier this year when scientists detected gravitational waves from such an event at 130 million light years away.

Exploring the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system and following the trail of gold in the universe involves many telescopes and facilities on Earth and in space working in collaboration. Dr. Squires will highlight the role of multi-observatory science and discuss the contributions that TMT will provide for these and other astrophysical phenomena. While first-light observations from the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) are still several years away, recent discoveries from other observatories provide tantalizing insights into what TMT will one day reveal.


Dr. Squires leads the TMT International Workforce Development, Education, Public Outreach and Communications (WEPOC) efforts. His team– the IPAC Communications and Education team– is co-located at Caltech/IPAC and provides WEPOC support for a number of astronomy and physics-related projects including TMT, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the Herschel Space Observatory, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, Galaxy Evolution Explore, Kepler, LIGO and the IPAC archives. Dr. Squires is a co-investigator in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Science Activation program called Universe of Learning. He received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Toronto in 1995. He was awarded the Doctoral Prize by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council for the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis in Canada and the Plaskett Medal by the Canadian Astronomical Society for the most outstanding thesis in astronomy, both in 1995. His research explores the old, distant universe, enabling us to better understand how galaxies evolved and formed billions of years ago, and probing into the nature of the dark matter via weak gravitational lensing.


Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy,‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for ‘Imiloa members (member level discounts apply). Pre-purchase tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk or by phone at 808-932-8901.

Nov 27 17

Kekemapa (December) Sky Watch

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

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

Mastering any skill takes passion and a commitment of time. Once achieved, a skill can last a lifetime of practice, but it is accessible only to the master unless it is passed on to others. Such is the story of the Satawalese star compass, Pa‘afu, used by the late master navigator, Mau Piailug, and our more modern Hawaiian star compass created by master navigator, Nainoa Thompson.


Born to the given name of Pius Piailug in 1932, Piailug was raised in the village of Weiso on the tiny coral atoll of Satawal in the Yap State of the Caroline Islands, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. At age five, Piailug attended Weriyeng, one of the last two schools of traditional navigation, for apprentice navigator training and went on to study with Angor, a skilled and recognized master navigator. At the age of eighteen, Piailug was initiated into the rank of Palu, master navigator, through a generations-honored ceremony called Pwo. For the next fifty years Satawal would not witness another Pwo ceremony until 2007, when five Hawaiian and eleven Satawalese men were initiated.


Piailug’s penchant for sailing in all weather conditions earned him the name “Mau” from the Satawalese word maumau, meaning strong. Piailug trained and mentored native Hawaiian master navigator, Nainoa Thompson, who in turn developed a modern system of wayfinding, or non-instrument navigation, using the Hawaiian star compass.

The Hawaiian star compass is comprised of 32 houses spaced equally at 11.25˚ intervals around the circle of the horizon. Both compass systems, the Satawalese and the Hawaiian, feature “arriving” horizons (hikina-east) and “entering” horizons (komohana-west). The arriving horizon, east, in the Pa‘afu system is named for stars and given the prefix, Tan. The entering horizon, west, is identified with the prefix, Tupul.


The Hawaiian star compass uses a star’s declination to position the stars along the edge of the star compass and to identify what house it rises and sets in. In astronomy term declination in astronomy is comparable to geographic latitude projected onto the sky, called the celestial sphere, and is measured in degrees north (+) or south (-) of the celestial equator, not exceeding 90˚, the northern and southern most point of the celestial sphere. The star Hōkūle‘a, Arcturus, rises and sets at +19˚North of the celestial equator, rising near the center of the star house ‘Āina Ko‘olau and setting in ‘Āina Ho‘olua. The star Hikianalia, Spica, rises and sets at -11˚ South of the celestial equator, rising from the center of the star house Lā Malanai and setting in Lā Kona. Mintaka in Orion’s belt with a declination of 0˚ rises in the star house Hikina and sets in the star house Komohana as it lies on the celestial equator. Nainoa Thompson incorporated a working list of 110 stars to the building of his Hawaiian star compass.


The reason a star compass works so well for the latitudes between Hawai‘i and Tahiti is because we inhabit an area of ocean known as the Tropics, between the margins of 23.5˚ North and 23.5˚ South, between which the rising and setting paths of the stars, sun, moon, and planets appear to be fairly vertical. However, when we travel further north or south the paths of these objects become more inclined until they become parallel to the horizon at the poles.  Thus, at the latitudes of the far north or south, wayfinders need to reply on other techniques. The Inuit of the arctic north, for example, use a traditional system called sastrugi, in which they determine direction based on observation of snow-formed ridges on the surface of ice, shaped by the wind.


December’s night sky

On December 3, be on the lookout for a supermoon, which is when the full moon’s distance is closest to earth, at a special location on the moon’s orbit known as perigee. 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. Every month the moon passes through perigee and when a full moon lines up with the perigee, it’s called a supermoon and will appear to be slightly larger in the sky.


Rising from the east, throughout December, will be the distinctive star cluster of Makaliʻi, also known as the Pleiades. This stellar open cluster stands out with its seven brightest stars being clearly visible to the naked eye. The stars in the cluster were all born from the same nebula about 100 million years ago. As these stars are around the same age, the cluster can be used as a laboratory for the study of stellar evolution.


Considered by many to be the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids Meteor shower runs from early to mid-December. Multiple meteors per minute are expected to be occurring on the night of December 13, marking the peak of the shower.


Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere takes place on December 21, where the sun will rise and set at its southernmost position in the sky. The sun will have a low arc across the sky, making it the shortest period of daylight for the whole year.


Early-morning observation

Daylight in December arrives later as the sun rises just after 6:40 am. In the early morning hours of 3:00 am as Mars rises from the east, the rusty red planet will be distinguishable among the sea of stars by its red-colored iron-oxide soil.  As sunrise approaches, the bright planet of Jupiter will rise from the east at about 5:00 am. As the 4th brightest object in the sky (after the sun, moon and Venus), Jupiter will still be visible as the sun begins to rise.  Jupiter owes its brightness to its thick atmosphere which reflects back much of the light that comes from the sun.


In the northeast the seven stars of Nahiku, which shares the same stars of the Big Dipper, are easily noticeable. Tracing the arc of stars representing the Big Dipper’s handle down towards the east, one can find the bright star Hokule‘a (Arcturus). This star is the namesake of the famous Hawaiian voyaging canoe which completed its worldwide voyage earlier this year.


December moon phases

Full Moon: 5:47 am HST, Sunday, December 3

Last Quarter Moon: 9:51 pm HST, Saturday, December 9

New Moon: 8:31 pm HST, Sunday, December 17

First Quarter Moon: 11:03 pm HST, Monday, December 25

The moon’s phase is determined by its position in relation to the sun and the earth. The designations of Full, Last Quarter, New and First Quarter refer to specific orientations of the moon, sun and earth. Listed above are the exact times the moon will be in the precise orientation; however the moon will not necessarily be visible in Hawai‘i’s sky at the specific time.  Due to the moon’s brightness, the best time for stargazing without its interference will be the week around New Moon (November 18).


Nov 21 17

Earth’s First Known Interstellar Visitor Unmasked, Named ʻOumuamua

by Imiloa Astronomy Center

In October, astronomers at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA) made a stunning discovery with the Pan-STARRS1 telescope – the first interstellar object seen passing through our Solar System. Now, an international team lead by Karen Meech (ifA) has made detailed measurements of the visitor’s properties. “This thing is very strange,” said Karen Meech.

Artist’s impression of the interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua

(Photo Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Originally denoted A/2017 U1 (with the A for asteroid), the body is now the first to receive an I (for interstellar) designation from the International Astronomical Union, which created the new category after the discovery. In addition, it has been officially given the name `Oumuamua. The name, which was chosen in consultation with ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and Hawaiian language expert Larry Kimura, reflects the way this object is like a scout or messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us (`ou means “reach out for”, and mua, with the second mua placing emphasis, means “first, in advance of”). The object’s full official name is 1I/2017 U1 (`Oumuamua), and can also be correctly referred to as 1I, 1I/2017 U1, and 1I/`Oumuamua.


`Oumuamua is rapidly fading as it heads out of the Solar System and recedes from both the Sun and the Earth, so getting new observations as fast as possible was crucial. The IfA team – including those who discovered 1I – was already prepared to rapidly follow up solar system discoveries from Pan-STARRS, which is operated by the IfA and funded by NASA. “We were able to rapidly develop a follow-up strategy on a very short timescale. It is exciting to think that the brief visit by `Oumuamua gave us the opportunity to do the first characterization of a sample from another solar system,” says Meech. As a result, they are the first to publish their results, appearing in the November 20th online issue of the journal Nature.


The team gathered data from telescopes around the world, including the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) and the Keck Telescope on Maunakea, the Gemini South telescope, and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Marshalling all of these resources yielded a wealth of data that revealed `Oumuamua’s unusual nature.


“We had to act quickly,” explains team member Olivier Hainaut from ESO in Garching, Germany. “`Oumuamua had already passed its closest point to the Sun and was heading back into interstellar space. This felt very much like the beginning of the famous science fiction story, Rendezvous with Rama.”

“Needless to say, we dropped everything so we could quickly point the Gemini telescopes at this object immediately after its discovery,” said Gemini Director Laura Ferrarese, who coordinated the Gemini South observations for Meech’s group.


“The CFHT data was absolutely critical for understanding the light curve, for our initial understanding of the orbit, and determining that this object was more like an asteroid and not a comet,” noted IfA’s Richard Wainscoat.


“What we found was a rapidly rotating object, at least the size of a football field, that changed in brightness quite dramatically,” according to Meech. “This change in brightness hints that `Oumuamua could be more than 10 times longer than it is wide – something which has never been seen in our own Solar System,” according to Meech.


“An axis ratio like that is truly extraordinary – we have never seen anything in the solar system that is this elongated”, says Lance Benner, a specialist in radar imaging of near-Earth and main-belt asteroids at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.


`Oumuamua does have some similarities to small objects in the outer Solar System, especially the distant worlds of the Kuiper Belt – a region of rocky, frigid worlds far beyond Neptune. “While study of `Oumuamua’s colors shows that this body shares characteristics with both Kuiper Belt objects and organic-rich comets and trojan asteroids,” said Meech, “its hyperbolic orbit says it comes from far beyond.”


“We are continuing to observe this unique object,” added Hainaut, “and we hope to more accurately pin down where it came from and where it is going next on its tour of the galaxy. And now that we have found the first interstellar rock, we are getting ready for the next ones!”


Astronomers estimate that an interstellar asteroid similar to `Oumuamua passes inside the orbit of Earth several times year, but they are faint and hard to spot, so they have been missed up until now. It is only recently that survey telescopes, such as Pan-STARRS, are powerful enough to have a chance to discover them. “Our successful follow-up observations are a model for the future – especially when the next major survey telescope, LSST, comes on line,” added Meech.

Gemini South telescope color composite image of `Oumuamua (center).

Gemini South telescope color composite image of `Oumuamua (center).

For more on this discovery, and for images read IfA’s news release.