Subaru Joins an All-Star Cast to Support AstroDay 2010

May 17, 2010

Astronomical groups and local organizations hosted special events at AstroDay (May 1st), bringing the joy of astronomy and an appreciation of Hawaiian culture to the public at Prince Kuhio Plaza shopping mall in Hilo. Founded locally in 2002 and then coordinated each year by Gary Fujihara, a former telescope operator at Subaru Telescope and the current Outreach Officer for the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, AstroDay has become the largest event of its kind in the state. Since its beginning, Subaru staff, students, families, and volunteers have participated in this annual, all-day celebration of astronomy and Hawaii. This year, local school bands, hula dancers, musicians, singers, and emcees entertained visitors at the center stage, while organizations displayed their exhibits and booths throughout the mall, enticing passersby to stop and participate in the diverse activities available to them.

Subaru filled its spacious area with a round of engaging offerings. Computer screens beckoned visitors to "test drive" the telescope by remote observation. Kids enjoyed a coloring corner, complete with crayons and blank pictures of telescopes and celestial objects, ready to come to life with coloring. Nearby were demonstrations of how adaptive optics or a coronograph work as well as panel displays of the telescope and descriptions of summit tours. A number of other activities were particularly popular, each drawing over 300 people. At the kid's corner, hundreds of children used fishing poles strung with lines fitted with large paper-clip "hooks" to reel in objects in our solar system. During spectroscopy demonstrations, about 350 people peered at different types of light bulbs through a spectrum card. And, at the greeting table, several hundred visitors picked up Mauna Kea Observatories Trading Cards.

A steady stream of guests visited the Suburu area, but the overall turnout of visitors to AstroDay was lighter than in previous years. The good weather outside of the mall as well as other community events may have drawn residents elsewhere. The downturn in the global economy may also have had an effect. Fewer tourists from the mainland and Japan have visited Hawaii, and vacant store spaces in the mall show the local toll that economic pressures have had. Nevertheless, the mall was filled with significantly more people than usually walk its corridors during an ordinary Saturday.

The value of AstroDay remains strong. Originally begun in 1973 by Doug Berger, then president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, Astronomy Day endures as a grassroots movement to bring astronomy to the people and takes place each spring at hundreds of U.S. and international sites. Organizers develop events that work best for their local areas.

Hilo founder of AstroDay, Gary Fujihara, decided to use the event to foster a better understanding of astronomy and the place from which it is conducted, atop the summit of Mauna Kea. Unlike Onizuka Science Day, which concentrates on the science of outer space, and the Merrie Monarch Festival, which embraces local organizations in a celebration of Hawaiian culture, AstroDay highlights the ways that the general public can become involved with local astronomy and receive some answers to questions they have about astronomy and the observatories on Mauna Kea. Knowledge about the observatories and astronomy on Hawaii seems to have grown over the years, and local people who attend the event each year with their families seem much more knowledgeable about and interested in astronomical activities in Hawaii.

Perhaps the astronomical and cultural activities of the day inspired some of the young people to become interested in science and motivated to stay in Hilo as future telescope operators, astronomers, or support staff for the observatories. Guests left the event not only with tangible take-a-ways from the booths and exhibits they visited but also with smiles on their faces after experiencing the educational and fun activities of the day. We look forward to next year's AstroDay.

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