Visiting Astronomers Spark Public Events in Honolulu
Back in June I wrote that the astronomers were coming, and their arrival in Hawaii is now imminent. The 29th triennial General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union starts on Monday, with some serious science stuffed into the two-week agenda. But while the astronomers will talk a lot of shop, the convention also brings with it opportunities for local residents to get psyched up about stargazing.
(A few people, however, are less than thrilled.)
On last week’s Bytemarks Cafe on Hawaii Public Radio, we interviewed Piero Benvenuti, incoming Secretary General of the IAU, Günther Hasinger, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy. and Roy Gal, friend and outreach coordinator of the IfA. They said that hosting the General Assembly is a big deal.
“You can regard it as kind of ‘Olympic Games for astronomy,'” Hasinger explained. “It happens every three years and years in advance there is a competition about who is getting the next one.”
The decision to bring the conference to Honolulu was made in 2009, with the Aloha State beating out bids from Calgary and Paris. It will be the first General Assembly to be held in the U.S. since 1988.
“I think that the main reason was that Hawaii and the observatories in the islands are really considered by astronomers one of the hotsposts in astronomy,” Benvenuti said. “We are really very thrilled about this, and we see that this will possibly be the largest General Assembly than we’ve had in the history of the IAU.”
“I think Hawaii was really the winner because Hawaii is Hawaii,” Hasinger joked.
Hawaii astronomers are well known in the global astronomy community, and in fact on Wednesday, the IfA announced that its own Nader Haghighipour was elected president of the IAU’s “Division F,” focused on planetary systems and astrobiology. His term, like Benvenuti’s, will run through 2018.
And while the more than 2,500 attendees from over 70 countries have work to do, the General Assembly both offers and has inspired free public events to Honolulu residents.
On Monday, Aug. 3, and Thursday, Aug. 13, there will be “Stargazing Parties” at sundown at Ala Moana Beach Park. Astronomers will set up telescopes and offer curious visitors a chance to get a first-hand look at the night sky.
There will also be three public talks:
- “He Lani Ko Luna: A Sky Above,” Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center. Master navigator Kālepa Baybayan of the Imiloa Astronomy Center and Polynesian Voyaging Society will explain how “in losing the sight of land, you discover the stars.” Free tickets are required.
- “What is Relativity,” Monday, Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m. the UH Manoa Art Auditorium. Renown children’s science book author Jeffrey Bennet will explain astronomy concepts in a fun, accessible way and sign books as part of a book tour and commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
- NameExoworlds Contest Launch (plus “The Development of Modern Astronomy in Hawaii” and “The Black Hole in the Galactic Centre”), Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center. The IAU will kick off public voting to pick names for newly discovered celestial bodies. Then Hasinger and UCLA researcher Andrea Ghez will share insights from their respective specialties. Free tickets are required.
The Hokulani Imaginarium at Windward Community College will offer free planetarium shows on Thursday, August 6 at 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., featuring “Cosmic Rays” and “Maunakea Between Earth & Sky.”
And for teachers, there will be a Teacher Training Workshop from the Galileo Teacher Training Program, hosted at the IfA headquarters in Manoa on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 8 and 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The $35 program support Common Core Math Standards and New NGSS Science Standards.
And all of this is in addition to the special on-site school group events that I wrote about in June, which quickly filled up.
You should listen to the full HPR interview, which included a fun conversation about the IAU’s controversial decision to reclassify Pluto as a “dwarf planet.”
Illustration courtesy the IAU.