Monthly Archives: July 2009

Making Friends with the Night Sky: The First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes the First Quarter Moon and brings you out into space, so you can see how lunar phases work. So take sometime out of your busy day, take a deep breath, and let Harriet bring you on a journey through the night sky.

Listen here [4:24m]:

What’s the facts:

It is called the First Quarter Moon, because that is what the moon looks like to us here on Earth (1/4 of a big round ball). To us, it seems as though the stars, the planets, and the moon, change throughout time, but really, we are turning, taking a different view of the night sky as we do. Our lunar phases are relative to the Sun (our source of light), and changes as the moon follows its orbit around the Earth, and the Earth spins and follows its orbit around the Sun. It’s pretty complicated once you think about it!

Original air date 22 July 2009.

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Making Friends with the Night Sky: What is Night?

The Earth...at night!

The Earth...at night!

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt asks a simple question: what is night?  The answer requires us to view our planet from a completely different perspective. The answer just might surprise you.

Listen here [4:24m]:

What’s the facts:

Night or nighttime is the period of time when the sun is below the horizon. Nights are shorter than days on average, but vary in length as it is based on factors such as season, latitude, longitude and timezone. Night lets our bodies know when to sleep and when animals can go out to hunt, but it’s also important to science. Without the absence of the Sun, we may never have seen the stars in the sky, and astronomy would not be what it is today. So next time you’re taking out the trash and you get spooked when something stirs in the dark, take a minute to look at the sky and appreciate it, and remember that light is right around the corner.

Original air date 30 June 2009.

Interview with Dr. Roy Gal

Dr. Roy Gal, surveyor of the Universe!

Dr. Roy Gal, surveyor of the Universe!

Charae’ interviews assistant astronomer, Prof. Roy Gal, from the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.  Roy works on sky surveys, which are essentially a closer look at the whole sky than is possible with the naked eye. Astronomical surveys generally involve imaging or “mapping” of regions of the sky using telescopes. It’s important to know that a sky survey isn’t always just a picture, like the ones you take on your camera.  There are infrared surveys, radio surveys, and much more too.  These images allow other scientists, who want to know more about any given star in the sky, a starting point in finding the information they need. What job could be better than observing the sky?

Listen here [15:48m]:

Download the audio file

Original air date 19 July 2009.

House of the Sun: Haleakala

Science City on the summit of Haleakala.

Science City on the summit of Haleakala.

Charae Tongg talks about the conflict stirring at the top of Haleakala over the construction of a new telescope, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. What happens when culture collides with science?

Listen here [2:45m]:

What’s the facts:

The final plans for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, or ATST,  are in.  The ATST will be used to study the Sun and to help predict and prepare for solar-activity related disasters. Once the builders of the ATST (headed up by the National Solar Observatory and 22 collaborating institutions) have an Environmental Impact Statement completed, astronomers will prepare to build their brand new telescope on the beautiful summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui.  While progress toward building ATST is on its way,  it isn’t, by any means, a smooth process.

When locals on Maui got wind of the plans, many were deeply offended. For centuries the mountaintop has been seen as sacred to the Ali’i or Hawaiian chief royalty, and it is believed today to be an ancient burial ground for the Ali’i and their families. Astronomers argue that studying the Sun is the most appropriate scientific activity to conduct on the top of Haleakala, whose name means “House of the Sun,” and that such research would honor ancient Hawaiian beliefs.

Those who oppose the project have formed a group called Kila Kila o Haleakala or “majestic is the house of the sun.” Some locals are willing to compromise, suggesting that the telescope be constructed differently (possibly with fewer stories, or of a different color), but engineers argue that current building plans are necessary for a telescope of such ability.

What are your thoughts?

Original air date 9 June 2009.

Black Hole Showdown

A black hole wandering the universe. The lone wolf, they say.

A black hole wandering the universe. The lone wolf, they say.

Michael and Mason at the Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center re-enact the scene of rogue black holes colliding in the Milky Way. If you thought the wild west was rough, you’ve got another thing coming. It can really get out of hand when trouble goes galactic!

Listen here [6:12m]:

What’s the facts:

A black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing, including light, can escape its pull.  Despite its “invisibility”, a black hole can reveal its presence through interaction with the matter it is sucking in, which produces high energy X-ray radiation. Newly merged black holes might be so jarred by the experience that they go “rogue,” careening into space on unexpected trajectories.   In fact, a recent study indicates that hundreds of these rogue black holes could exist in the Milky Way galaxy.  Better watch your back!

Original air date 19 July 2009.

Making Friends with the Night Sky: Maui’s Fishhook

The constellation Scorpio

The constellation Scorpius, known in Hawaiian culture as Maui's Fishhook

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes how different cultures have different names for the constellations in the night sky, and how the legend of Maui’s Fishhook (also called Scorpius, or the Scorpion) was probably important to the Polynesians who first settled Hawaii.

Listen here [4:24m]:

What’s the facts:

Ancient Hawaiian legends state that Maui, one of the many demigods of Hawaii, once threw a magical fishhook, (Manai-a-Kalani or “fishhook from the Heavens”) into the Pacific Ocean to pull out the other Hawaiian islands. Maui had received this sacred fishhook from his father Akalana and was sent off in a canoe with his brothers to catch the giant ulua fish named Pimoe.  This was a hard task, because if one were to look at Pimoe, the fish would die instantly and turn into solid land. Maui dropped his fishhook into the ocean and Pimoe grabbed a hold of it. Struggling to keep a hold of the line, Maui’s brothers turned around and the line snapped. Pimoe died and turned into hard land.  Maui pulled the great hook out from the land and threw it up into the sky, where it became the constellation known as Maui’s fishhook. It still hangs there today, known to many as Scorpius.

Hawaiians were natural astronomers, studying their skies very carefully. They used their knowledge of the sky to navigate to the islands, to know when to fish, and to manifest their spirituality. They even had a name for each night of the moon’s phases. That’s 29 names! To learn more about Ancient Hawaiian astronomy from Harriet Witt herself, click here.

Original air date 14 July 2009.

Cosmocoustics: What does the Solar Wind sound like?

Visual display courtesy the Solar Wind

Visual display courtesy the Solar Wind

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes to us the haunting sound of the Solar wind. This recording was made by a Toronto sound studio, taking radio frequency data of the plasma waves coming from the Sun and transposing it to the frequencies we can hear with our ears.

Listen here [10:54m]:

You can hear other recordings of the solar wind directly from NASA and similar eerie recordings of Saturn’s radio emission as measured by the Cassini spacecraft.

Original air date 14 July 2009.