Ben Berkey and MLSO coronagraph images
Ben Berkey displays MLSO coronagraph images

Community outreach is a key objective for HAO. Every year we look for opportunities to communicate the importance of our science through events like Super Science Saturday, Expanding Your Horizons (a STEM event for middle school girls), and other STEM events in the Boulder Community.  For the last two years, the MLSO staff in Hawaii participated in AstroDay 2018, an educational outreach event coordinated by the Mauna Kea Observatories. More than 3,000 people attended the event, which featured booths and science displays from various local observatories, robotics clubs from numerous schools, and other projects from tech-savvy groups.

Child viewing the sun
Child safely viewing the sun through an optical telescope

MLSO staff teamed with college students from the University of Hawaii Astrophysics club. MLSO staff handled the movies and ultraviolet images, while the university students assisted the public with the use of the telescopes and explained what they were viewing. With the students, we built a radio telescope based on the “itty bitty radio telescope” project. The concept was to use a common device that is widely known to be associated with satellites and communication (a radio telescope) and show how the Sun also emits waves at radio wavelengths. A simple sensor produced an audio tone of different frequencies when a signal was detected. Children moved the dish back and forth until they could find the sun. Some more ambitious kids worked with observers to to find Jupiter, which was much harder during the daytime. While AstroDay 2018 was short on viewable sunspots, the university students enthusiastically worked with the public to find small prominences and other solar phenomena.

University student explaining the radio dish experiment image
University student explaining the radio telescope experiment built specially for AstroDay 2018

At the HAO/MLSO booth, we worked with visitors to help them understand what they were viewing through the telescopes. We demonstrated that even though the visible disk of the sun appears uneventful when viewing, the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite and movies from the MLSO coronagraph capture some interesting processes in the solar corona. This led to further discussion of how these processes lead to changes in the solar wind and geomagnetic storms on earth. For the younger booth visitors, we helped them make bracelets out of UV-sensitive beads that changed color in the sunlight to explain how there is some light from the sun that we can’t see with our eyes, but still affect things here on earth.

Overall it was a fun and successful day of public outreach for HAO/MLSO with excellent attendance from the community.