It was raining a lot when I arrived at IfA, classic Hilo, so I decided to stick out the rain at IfA and finish my plot. The rain passed over as I was working but of course started up again once I’d packed up and decided to live. Luckily I was offered a lift home by my one and only contact at the IfA!

My work-life balance in Hawai’i has been a strange one. I’ve had an irregular routine of up and down the hill, with obscure working hours, so my weekends aren’t always at the weekend. This week Thursday and Friday were my weekend.

I had my first diving lesson and I was super excited. My instructor is really cool, he was born in Holland and has memories of the second world war, so he definitely has a lot of diving experience! He told me some pretty great stories on the way to the dive site, how he learnt to scuba dive when the military were the only people who taught you and also how he had a sword fight with his friend as a child. I did my confined dive at Richardson’s beach park, which was a little unconventional but I was super excited to be in the sea.

My favourite beach park: Richardson’s beach park 🙂

After going over the basics we set out under the sea and saw all kinds of beautiful fish. It was kind of choppy and the swell threw you about a little as we swam around. My instructor kept pointing out things, picking up shells for me to look at and then putting them in his pocket for me to keep later. He also picked up a star fish for me to hold, which was awesome. During the dive my instructor kept banging little rocks together and a fish swam over to eat the yummy stuff stuck to the underside of the rock. He later told me that he’d trained the fish, just like a puppy, to come over to him when he banged the rocks. He has a trained fish at all of his dive sites. This guy is well cool.

A Brittle starfish, like the one I held. (Picture from Wikipedia)

After dinner, I went to call on the Germans. There’s quite a gang of them now, with two friends and a brother with his girlfriend also visiting. It was fun and sociable and I didn’t want to leave but I had diving again early the next morning.

This time we went to a different site to dive, Keaukaha beach park, where there is fresh water stream flowing into the sea. Swimming through the fresh water was freezing! It was lush to swim down into the warm ocean. At this site there was a lot more coral and even more beautiful fish. We saw a puffer fish the size of a rugby ball; apparently they’ll have your fingers off if you’re not careful! My instructor showed me the toxic shell cones, they’re not as lethal as the Australian ones but it’s still a neurotoxin you don’t want to experience!

A puffer fish (
Purple poison leaf fish (

We did two dives of about 40 minutes each and I was actually really cold getting out from the first dive and enjoyed warming up in the sun while watching the turtles. On the second dive, I got to dive with the turtles which was really awesome! I found the neutral buoyancy thing quite hard and accidentally kept making myself positively buoyant and shooting up to the surface! It was okay though, we weren’t so deep! Eventually I started to get the hang of it and began being more proactive with my swimming rather than treating the BCD as a buoyancy aid! On the way back we saw a poison leaf fish, it looks exactly like a little purple leaf, there’s no way I would have spotted it myself!

My instructor begin my Hawaiian shell collections with these finds during my first dive. I love looking for shells, but I was far too distracted by breathing and looking at fishes!!

I did some present shopping at Hilo’s farmers’ market and headed home for lunch and a nap. My life here is built upon strategic naps! That evening I went for drinks with some astronomers, telescope operators and researchers that live in Hilo. It was fun and really interesting to speak to people working at different telescopes and get the insiders view point. Unfortunately I broke the bike! Well, I think it was a bit broken before I borrowed it but I saw off the valve on the back wheel! Oops! So I had to sheepishly return the bike to it’s owner, feeling a little guilty although I was reassured that it was no worries!

The next day it was mountain time again. I’m definitely starting to run out of original ways to explain my mountain activities! So I drove up, did some of my online dive course, had dinner and a sleep. I woke up at 1 am and tried to turn on my laptop but it wouldn’t turn on! It was just chilling in sleep mode, but plugged in so it was charging… but it wouldn’t turn on or off for that matter! So I did some faffing around with the battery but no luck. So I gave up and when on a sunrise hike as there didn’t seem to be anything more I could do! I hiked up the tourist cinder cone this time and it was a really beautiful sunrise with colourful clouds. Although this is great for pictures it is bad for observing!

The weather’s been so clear all the times I’ve been up here I’m not used to seeing clouds above Mauna Kea!

After breakfast I set about emailing people and trying to figure out how to fix my laptop but by lunch it was still unresponsive and I wasn’t any further in solving the problem. This is less than ideal as the dealine to re-submit my paper is while I’m here in Hawai’i.

A storm was coming in and I’d heard from a Keck telescope operator that the seeing had been 2 arc seconds the previous night, so I was a little concerned for my observing run the following morning. A 2 arc second seeing is not great at all! Arc seconds are astronomers way of measuring distances in the spherical night sky. So Jupiter is about 44 arc seconds in the sky at the moment, and this apparent size changes as Jupiter and Earth move around their orbits. A 2 arc second seeing really blurs out the images, so you can’t seeing any detail smaller than 2 arc seconds. The Subaru telescope people were also stressing about the weather, concerned that the wind would be too strong for the dome to be opened. I didn’t sleep very well listening to the wind and wondering if I would get any data later on.

I woke up to a brilliantly bright moon. It was so beautiful and lit up the whole of Mauna Kea. Mauna Loa was looking very hazy and you could see the distant glow from the lava lake at Kilauea. Before an observing run I have to ring up the TO for the nightly password so I can log into CSHELL and do the cals. This time when I rang up I asked about the weather and I was surprised to hear that there was only some high altitude cirrus and the seeing was 0.5 arc seconds, which is a good seeing. When I got up to the summit it was really windy but not so windy that the dome wasn’t able to open. The data collection went great! Had no issues and got some good quality data considering the storm!!

Hazy Mauna Loa with the glow of Kilauea lava over the limb of the mountain.

After breakfast it was nap time. During my nap I could hear people singing but I was too sleepy to see what was going on. After waking up properly, I looked out the window to see some TMT protesters were singing some Hawaiian songs to Mauna Kea.

The TMT is the Thirty Meter Telescope which is going to revolutionise astronomy! Hawai’i is the perfect place to build telescopes for many reasons. There’s good infrastructure near to such a high mountain. The altitude of Mauna Kea lifts the telescopes high above most clouds, which is great for observing. The surrounding oceans provide a stability to the air which is also good news for observers. To some though, Mauna Kea is not the perfect place to build a mountain.

Protestors blockading the road and contract issues meant that the construction of the TMT never got started. Last April when we were observing, there were many protesters camping out opposite the visitor center. The protesters prefer to be called protectors because to them Mauna Kea is their sacred mountain; it should be a peaceful place without noise and pollution and so they do not want the TMT to built and would very much like all the telescopes to go too.

It all came to a head in May 2015 when several arrests were made. The government of Hawai’i told the constructors to go ahead and start even though the protesters had a court case against the contract. So once the constructors started building, this invalidated the contract. So now it’s all up in the air, and they’re trying to get a new contract but no one seems sure what’s going to happen.

It’s really not a simple situation. I’ve spoken to a few people up the mountain and they believe that the majority of native Hawaiian’s are backing the TMT and it is a minority that opposes it. But there is just so much history with Hawaiian culture and the treatment of the native people that is wound up in this dispute. Many of the TO’s think the TMT should be built as it is going to create jobs and provide so much money for the people of Hawai’i. But some people don’t believe that  because in the past, telescopes haven’t given much back to the Hawaiians.

I wish there was a solution where everyone could be happy!!

After my nap, my laptop still wasn’t working so I had lunch and heading down the hill to IfA to try and solve me problems!

Spoiler alert: I solved my problems… I didn’t want to leave you lot desperately waiting for the next blog to see if I’d found a solution!