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Deep Impact and Hawaii

Deep Impact provided scientists with the first-ever chance to see the inside of a comet. It also marked the first time the IfA participated in such a large series of public events aimed at educating the public about an astronomical event.

On Waikiki Beach, 10,000 people gathered before the large Sunset on the Beach screen to see IfA astronomer Robert Joseph's presentation about comets and the Deep Impact mission, and to watch the NASA television broadcast of the actual impact. Many stayed to view the evening's featured film, The Dish.

At the Bishop Museum, thousands more filled the lawn hoping to see a comet made visible by the impact. Though members of the Hawaiian Astronomical Society and IfA staff and students provided telescopes, the impact did not result in sufficient brightening to make the comet visible in the light city skies. But disappointment turned into a learning opportunity. Those gathered viewed objects that were visible to the naked eye, including the stars Arcturus (Hokulea) and Spica, and the planets Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury. Some ventured into the museum to hear IfA staff members Tobias Owen, Gareth Wynn-Williams, Jeffrey Morgan, and Mark Willman lecture about comets, the Deep Impact mission, IfA's Pan-STARRS project, and planets in other solar systems, or to see the NASA broadcast.

Members of the public came to hear IfA astronomer Shadia Habbal (in the white T-shirt in front of screen) and others speak about Deep Impact at Maui Community College on July 3. The room was filled to capacity. Those who could not get in viewed the action on monitors set up in the hallway.

At the Maui Community College (MCC), IfA astronomers Shadia Habbal and Jonathan Williams, recent IfA graduate J.D. Armstrong, and NASA Mission Payload Specialist Mike Martin (via a link from the summit of Haleakala) presented a program to an overflow crowd. Fortunately, Pacific Rim Productions provided large flat-panel displays that were set up outside the rooms for the benefit of those who could not get in. Those at MCC were fortunate to see post-impact images of the comet taken by high school students using the Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala (see related story). In addition, the Haleakala Amateur Astronomers brought their telescopes to the event and offered views of the night sky to the public.

At the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH), IfA astronomers Donald Hall, David Jewitt, and Bobby Bus joined a panel that included Catherine Ishida of Subaru Telescope, Richard Crowe of UHH, and a pair of NASA representatives, Todd May and Shari Asplund. The crowd was so large that five additional classrooms had to be opened to accommodate them. Those attending were fortunate to see not only the NASA television broadcast, but also the video feed from the Subaru Telescope's NHKcam and near-real-time images taken with a pair of Celestron telescopes located outdoors on the summit of Mauna Kea. In addition, observers on the large Mauna Kea telescopes allowed the public an inside look into the observatories through video conferences and made their data available to share as quickly as humanly possible.

This widespread outreach was organized by IfA Science Education and Outreach Officer Gary Fujihara, who either created the activities or enabled IfA to join activities arranged by others.

At Hale Pohaku, where astronomers working on Mauna Kea sleep and eat, Steven Garcia prepared doughnuts, which he renamed "comet busters" for the occasion.

The staff and volunteers at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (VIS) also were busy on Deep Impact night. Part of their mission was to advise members of the public that the VIS would be a better place to observe the comet than the summit of Mauna Kea, where their vehicle headlights might disrupt the observations. They provided about 200 members of the public with a link to the NASA Web site and a chance to observe the comet with VIS telescopes.

IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki and graduate students Dale Kocevski and Elizabeth McGrath were guests at a Communications Pacific (ComPac) Independence Day celebration at the company's penthouse offices opposite the Aloha Tower on Deep Impact night. ComPac CEO Kitty Lagareta (also chair of the UH Board of Regents) encouraged them to bring along telescopes for stargazing and, optimistically, comet watching. They took the opportunity to inform the assembled throng about the reasons for studying comets and the scientific and technical significance of the Deep Impact mission.

For more photographs of these events, see the article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and additional articles.