An Abundance of Astronomical Treats at the Galileo Block Party

Octorber 16, 2009

Galileo Block Party

Preparations for the upcoming Galileo Block Party in Hilo on October 24th are in high gear. Sponsored by the Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee (MKOOC), this special event is a local tribute to the 2009 International Year of Astronomy's (IYA) celebration of the 400th year since Galileo first viewed the skies in 1609 with his personally crafted telescope. The observatories also want to show their appreciation for the support and involvement that they have received from the local community.

North A'ohoku Place, where the base facilities of most of the Mauna Kea observatories are located, will be transformed into a festive setting where the joy of astronomy will reign. The Mauna Kea observatories, local astronomy clubs, `Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Visitor Information Station, and the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) are all planning creative activities to share their enthusiasm for astronomy.

The International Year of Astronomy 2009

The chair of MKOOC's Block Party Committee, Subaru outreach scientist Dr. Kumiko S. Usuda, will kick off the celebration at 1:30 pm on the central stage next to Subaru Telescope's facility, and UHH Chancellor Rose Tseng, Subaru Telescope's Director Masahiko Hayashi, and Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi are among those scheduled to make welcoming remarks. After the opening ceremony, Mayor Kenoi will engage in a special, half-hour, talk-story dialogue with local students; he'll discuss the value of studying science and the importance of career development, contributions to the community, and involvement in the global arena. Hilo Intermediate School, Kamehameha Schools, Connections Public Charter School, and St. Joseph School are among those whose students will participate in the dialogue.

The center stage will be periodically filled with performers throughout the afternoon. The Waiakea Intermediate School Ukulele Band, the Hilo High School Band, and the Hui Okinawa Taiko Group will offer music and entertainment.

A'ohoku Place will be blocked off to vehicle traffic so that people may gather in the streets and have easy access to the entire location. An array of activities will be available to partygoers. Tents will be set up near the base facilities and feature games, informational displays, demonstrations of celestial events, solar viewing, and conversations with the variety of people who work at the observatories. Here's a sample of what's in store.

Among the Joint Astronomy Centre's (JAC) offerings are: asteroid target practice, games and quizzes with prizes, a demonstration of how a comet works, and a solar observing station. The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) will have an exhibit entitled "IfA Rocks!", where people can touch and hold samples of the solar system older than the Earth. Keck will set up a cratering lab, a cosmic game, and computer displays of observatory operations while Gemini will have a demonstration of how technicians clean the telescope's 26.5 foot mirror. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) will offer a rocket art project as well as demonstrations of how vacuum in space as well as radio waves operate. Subaru will provide stargazing in their conference room in the daytime with i-Can remote telescopes located in foreign countries at night. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will not only give information about TMT's construction and operation but also feature presentations on the links between Hawaiian culture and astronomy by cultural educator Koa Rice. Visitors can collect one Mauna Kea Brand Trading Card (provided by MKOOC) at each location after they complete an activity.

Community members will have a rare opportunity to tour the base facilities of Subaru and Gemini as well as the lobby and control room of the Submillimeter Array (SMA). All lobbies of observatory buildings will be open to the public.

Astronomy clubs and other interested organizations are adding to the festivities. The University Astrophysics Club will offer solar viewing, flight simulation, and an experiment with angular momentum, and the Hilo Astronomy Club will display amateur astronomy gear, particularly telescopes suited for personal observations. The Visitor Information Station (VIS) at the 9,200' level of Mauna Kea will offer temporary tattoos, coloring sheets, and a chance to make a button or magnet, and the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) will be giving out information about its activities. Even the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC) will join in the event by exploring the impact of invasive species issues in space.

Complementing the activities on A'ohoku Place will be those taking place just below it at `Imiloa Astronomy Center, where special planetarium shows and other interesting activities are planned. Participants will have an opportunity to earn free passes to `Imiloa on the day of the event. `Imiloa's beautiful Sky Garden Restaurant will remain open throughout the party, and bento boxes of food will be available for sale and take-out.

Families, amateur astronomers, keiki, and curious adults will all find something fun and interesting to engage them during the Galileo Block Party. The event is free and open to the public, and will take place from 1:30-7:00 p.m. at the UHH Astronomy Park off of Komohana Street in Hilo. A shuttle bus will be available near the Performing Arts building at UHH for the convenience of those who want to park in the UHH lot and ride up to the event. For more information and updates on the Galileo Block Party, please visit

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