Simply Out of This World

July 3, 2008

For the seventh consecutive year, Subaru Telescope staff, student helpers, and family members gathered together in the annual celebration of astronomy and culture called AstroDay. This annual event gathers scientists and astronomers together with educators, students, and cultural groups from the community of Hilo in a shared learning experience for the entire family. Each year the event gets bigger and better, and this year’s festival topped them all.

AstroDay 2008 occurred on Saturday, May 3 at Prince Kuhio Plaza, an indoor venue selected because of its size and the rainy climate of Hilo. Over 50 exhibits, demonstrations and activity areas were spread throughout the mall, including each of the Mauna Kea observatories, student science projects, cultural exhibits, and amateur astronomy groups. Of course, actual outdoor observing (daytime and nighttime) with a telescope was offered to all along with infrared camera and liquid nitrogen demonstrations. The crowd, estimated to be over 12,000 for the day, was entertained with performances by school bands and local guitar legends. In addition to the regular activities of Starlab planetarium shows and Subaru’s Kid’s Corner, this year’s event had more hands-on programs. Most visible were the robotics demonstrations and competitions by elementary and high school teams from around the island. One of these groups, Hilo High School, has been assisted with robot design through expertise at Subaru . There was a lot to experience for all ages.

The activities offered in Subaru’s area included poster displays, sprectroscopy demonstrations, a scale model of the summit of Mauna Kea showing observatory locations, and many other interactive, youth-oriented stations. The team from Subaru enthusiastically shared information, stories, and insights about the observatory, its discoveries, and state-of-the art technologies, including details of the new HiCIAO and FMOS (Fibre Multi-Object Spectrograph) instruments. HiCIAO is a highly sensitive coronagraphic imager that blocks out the light from a star so faint objects near that star, such as planets, can be observed, while FMOS is our newest instrument and can obtain spectra from 400 objects simultaneously from a very wide field of view. The public enjoyed the opportunity to explore our solar system and nearby galaxy using the 3-D software program “Mitaka” developed by the Four Dimensional Digital Universe Project (4D2U) at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. “Flying through the rings of Saturn and seeing where a comet put holes in Jupiter in 1994 was so cool”, said a third grade student from Waiakea elementary. The younger crowd appreciated the arts and crafts offered in our Kid’s Corner, especially making and wearing their own “Subaru Boy” hat, which roughly depicts the shape of our observatory. Children who successfully completed all the interesting activities in the Kid’s Corner had their photo taken proudly showing a certificate of completion. Throughout the day our space was filled with visitors, and we estimate that over 500 people stopped by.

A guiding principle of AstroDay is to inspire youngsters to become interested in science, not only astronomy, and to consider expanding and extending their academic endeavors. We believe that the goals and ambitions of the annual event are being realized in Hilo, and that AstroDay 2008 lived up to all of the aspirations of organizers, participants, visitors, and then some. Everyone at Subaru enjoyed themselves tremendously and eagerly await next years happening. If you’re on the Big Island the first weekend in May any time in the future, please come to AstroDay, say aloha, and create a wonderful memory.


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