Throughout the early spring, before Hawaii’s first COVID-19 cases appeared, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo was bustling with visitors and programs, including a pilot of the first-ever astronomy program for local Cub Scouts. Currently closed through April 30, ‘Imiloa hopes to replicate this unique opportunity in the future.
Flashlight beams and whispering voices echoed through the halls of ‘Imiloa overnight Saturday, March 7. Normally darkened and empty after the close of business, the center played host to 27 excited youngsters — 24 boys and three girls, ages 5-10 — from East Hawaii’s Cub Scout Pack 19. Accompanied by eight siblings and 35 adults, the Scouts spent an action-packed overnight with their families, exploring diverse topics in astronomy, earning Junior Ranger Night Explorer badges from the National Park Service — and getting a little bit of sleep.
Scouts Stellar Night at the Museum was developed as a pilot to test the feasibility of ‘Imiloa’s partnering with local Scout troops to offer science merit badge-earning activities. By the end of this pilot, Cub Scouts in the older dens were able to complete official requirements to qualify for STEM Nova badge awards, in addition to earning Junior Ranger Night Explorer badges.
“We see our center as an ideal venue for collaborating with local Scout groups on merit badge opportunities,” said ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center Education Manager Anya Tagawa shared. “We’re delighted to share our engaging approach to teaching science, as well as our excellent working relationships with both university and observatory community partners.”
Throughout the evening, ‘Imiloa provided eight customized workshops, half at the center and half at the East Asia Observatory’s base facility headquarters a short walk away. Additionally, participants were hosted for two presentations in ‘Imiloa’s digital planetarium.
First was a showing of “We Are Astronomers,” a film that follows scientists from around the globe as they work collaboratively to uncover the secrets of far-off galaxies and decipher the code of starlight. Later they were treated to a live, interactive “fly out” from Earth, exploring the solar system and Milky Way galaxy, learning the differences between the sun, stars, planets and dwarf planets; at the end they teleported to the center of the Milky Way and explored the black hole at its core.
Other activities at ‘Imiloa included a workshop about why stars twinkle, during which the Scouts learned about the anatomy of the human eye, how our eyes see light and the properties of light and color, and experimented with a 10-foot metal slinky demonstrating wavelengths in action.
Another workshop provided an opportunity for everyone to build, launch and test fly straw rockets across a 35-foot flight path. Undergraduates from the University of Hawaii at Hilo Astrophysics Club set up telescopes in front of the center and taught the Scouts how to focus the instruments for observing the night sky.
At the East Asia Observatory, participants enjoyed a rare, real-time opportunity to shadow professional astronomers working remotely to process data collected overnight from the James Clerk Maxwell and UK Infrared Telescopes on Maunakea. They learned about the job of a telescope operator, how to manipulate the various controls and some of the ways in which the various Maunakea-based telescopes differ from each other.
Other workshops at the observatory introduced them to light spectra and looking at regular objects through the “alien eyes” of tinted glasses.
Before retiring to sleeping bags scattered throughout the ‘Imiloa Exhibit Hall, participants capped off the evening with a Super Nova Star Party in the planetarium, dancing the rest of the night away underneath the Hawaiian star constellations.
“Seeing our bodies in infrared, learning to identify gases through diffraction, watching mesmerized as the slinky wave modeled increasingly shorter wavelengths, dancing under the stars, falling asleep to the sounds of kids still learning while playing with the interactive exhibits … were just a few of the memorable activities,” said Pack 19 Cub Scout Master Joe Genz. “I believe interacting with the university students and professional astronomers may have put what previously seemed impossible suddenly within their sights. After the badges were awarded, I overheard one Scout tell his mother, ‘I want to be an astronomer’ — a sentiment now shared by a lot of us!”
Scouts Stellar Night at the Museum was made possible through generous support of ‘Imiloa’s Ilima Pi‘ianai‘a Endowment. To make a gift to the endowment, visit www.uhfoundation.org/SupportIlimaPiianaiaEndowment