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Keep your eyes on the ‘star of gladness’

Mahalo to all who came to May’s star watch in Kaumakani. We had lots of visitors and locals, young and old, including a visit from some Koloa School second-graders. Unfortunately, the clouds were a problem. But keep showing up, Kauai, eventually the dry, clear Westside will give us the excellent viewing conditions we are accustomed to.

For viewing planets, the highlight will be on the evening of Sunday, June 16 (Father’s Day). In early June, Mars will appear slightly lower in the west each night shortly after sunset. A keen eye will detect Mercury getting higher each night until June 16, when Mercury and Mars will appear a quarter of a degree apart. That’s only half the width of the full moon. The perfect time to see it will be around 7:45 p.m., when it is dark enough to find them and they are still high enough in the sky to be seen from an area with a good view of the western horizon.

Jupiter will be at opposition on June 10, meaning it will be exactly on the opposite side of Earth from the sun, and so will be as close and bright as its going to get all year.

It will rise in the east when the sun sets and set in the west when the sun rises. Saturn can also be seen in the evening or morning, rising around 9 p.m. and still visible high in the west before sunrise. Both are stunning through a telescope, Saturn with its iconic rings and Jupiter with its bands of clouds and large moons.

The constellation Virgo will be high overhead in the early evening throughout June. Virgo is noted by the bright star Spica, with the rest of Virgo located between it and the bright star Arcturus (part of the constellation Bootes).

A simple trick for locating these two bright stars is to find the big dipper, then project the arc of the big dipper handle out to the next very bright star, that is Arcturus. Keep following that arc and the next very bright star is Spica (remember, “arc to Arcturus, speed on to Spica”).

Arcturus is special to Hawaii, where it is known as Hokule‘a or “star of gladness.” It is at 19 degrees north declination, which matches the latitude of the Big Island.

This is significant because when it reaches its zenith, or its highest point in the sky, it will be directly overhead if you are at the latitude of Hawaii.

If you were a voyager from Tahiti, that means you can sail north until you see Hokule‘a directly overhead, signaling that you have reached Hawaii’s latitude, then turn to the west and sail until you see the peaks of the Big Island.

Virgo is sometimes called “the realm of galaxies” by astronomers, since this is the direction of the Virgo Cluster, a grouping of more than a thousand galaxies located about 60 million light years away, relatively close by galactic standards.

That makes this area of the sky the most densely populated with galaxies viewable through a small telescope. Come out to a KEASA starwatch and follow a string of entire galaxies like pearls on a necklace through our telescopes, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars much like our own.

KEASA (Kauai Educational Association for Science and Astronomy) will be hosting its monthly public starwatch at the Kaumakani Park softball field on Saturday, June 29. Check out the website for the full schedule. Bring a comfortable chair or blanket. Atronomers look forward to sharing these objects and more through their telescopes. If the weather is in doubt, call 346-5796 to verify the event is still on.

While there, speak to a member about the benefits of membership. More stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts are needed to carry KEASA into the future!


David Bickham is vice president of KEASA.
Source: The Garden Island

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