The Thrill of Observing the Skies with a Personal Telescope

September 23, 2009

Some say that seeing first light through your own telescope can be a transforming experience. It certainly was for Galileo Galilei, an Italian scientist who made his own telescope and changed our view of the universe with his first observations of the skies in 1609. Likewise, Yasuharu Hanaoka's experience of making and exploring the sky with his own telescope when he was 7 years old sparked his lifelong enthusiasm for telescopes and astronomy. His passion for sharing the joy and excitement of constructing and using a personal telescope brought him to Hilo, where he conducted a telescope workshop at `Imiloa Astronomy Center on May 30th. Mr. Hanaoka donated the telescope kits and his time, traveling with his son from Japan at his own expense for the workshop, which Subaru Telescope and `Imiloa collaborated to produce.

This event became more than a workshop. It was a family affair that ignited interest, enthusiasm, and joy among family and friends of 20 fortunate students in grades 6-8 as each small group joined together to help a student assemble a telescope.

During the process of constructing telescopes from the kits that Mr. Hanaoka brought from Japan, participants became familiar with the parts of a telescope; learned about optics; and personalized their instruments with colored tape, stars, and other decorations. Most assembled their telescopes within an hour.

The "Spica" (named after the principal star in the constellation Virgo) telescope kits consist of finely crafted parts such as a lens, eyepiece, focusing tube, and tripod mounting plate, and do not require specialized tools to put them together. Glue, tape, scissors, and detailed instructions are enough. Dr. Saeko Hayashi, Associate Professor at Subaru and one of the facilitators of the event, commented, "These telescopes are simple, sturdy, well-designed, and easy for families to use to observe the night sky. We want our keiki to learn to look at the wonders of the night sky and to understand what they are seeing."

Mr. Hanaoka personally demonstrated how to construct the telescopes that his company makes. In the process, he gave participants a lot more than a kit and instructions. He communicated his personal love for telescopes; his delight in seeing family members helping each other; and his passion for educating children about the excitement of viewing the night skies.

Mr. Hanaoka established and is-president of a company that manufactures and distributes telescope kits and optics ( He has given countless workshops in Japan to educate children and adults alike about the value of telescopes. He is convinced that assembling and having a personal telescope is an effective way to stimulate a child's (and adult's) long-term interest in astronomy. He noted that people use all five senses to make the instruments; looking through a telescope gives observers a sixth sense-a way to explore the universe. For him, the workshops are "always nice" and the happiest times come when he hears kids say, "I see it."

After the workshop, participants learned to see the earth and sky in a new way. Mr. Hanaoka, his son Kenji, and Dr. Hayashi showed students how to point and focus their personal telescopes so that they could see distant, familiar Hilo landmarks close-up. The voices of parents and children rippled with excitement as they made their first observations in the daylight. Later in the day, some of the families gathered at twilight in front of Subaru Telescope's base facility to observe the night sky. When the clouds parted to reveal the moon and Saturn, family members anxiously awaited their turn to look at these celestial objects with new eyes--through their telescopes. As night fell on the novice observers, students, keiki, and adults exclaimed their delight in being able to clearly view craters on the moon and rings around Saturn. A word commonly uttered that night sums it up: "Wow."

This telescope workshop was a fitting precursor to an official cornerstone project of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy (IYA), which is a global celebration of astronomy and its contribution to society and culture. The project focuses on the production and distribution of inexpensive telescope kits to encourage a wide variety of people to make their own "Galileosopes". Assembling and using Galileoscopes highlight the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo. Like Mr. Hanaoka, IYA's cornerstone project aims to encourage a wide variety of people around the world to view the skies as Galileo did and give them a window to the universe.

Galileoscopes will be available for purchase in September at `Imiloa Astronomy Center's gift shop and at the Visitor's Information Center on Mauna Kea.

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