For the past four weeks a group of amateur astronomers, under the direction of Dr. J.D. Armstrong, Educational Outreach Coordinator for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, have been setting up amateur telescopes at some of the hotels where people who have lost their homes have been staying. Derek Takeno of the Red Cross asked Armstrong if it was possible to bring some telescopes out for the residents. Studies have shown that astronomy outreach has a positive mental effect for people suffering from trauma and depression. Plus, the effort, named Stars of Hope, has had an outpouring of volunteers who also have experienced a sense of happiness in being able to share some aloha with people affected by the fires.
“Our volunteers consist of people with a passion for astronomy, including astronomy students from UH Maui College and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teachers,” said Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers. “Individuals from these groups bring out telescopes and set them up on the hotel grounds. Royal Lahaina hotel was the initial site, then Honua Kai, and the Westin Hotel in Kaanapali. The volunteers set up telescopes and then show off the night sky, sharing their knowledge. We have talked story with adults and children alike, some evenings speaking to between 30 and 100 individuals. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere outside in nature. People can just walk up to anyone with a telescope and are encouraged to have a look and ask questions.”
Armstrong reflected, “I just want to do something for people so they know we care. Some people want to share their stories, sometimes they just want to have a relaxing evening under the stars, enjoying a unique experience.”
Krach added, “There is a sense of quiet and peace, but also excitement, particularly with the children. We have received positive feedback from the Red Cross and the people that come to the events. Some have said they had never had the opportunity to look through a telescope before. One little girl came back four times to look at the moon, saying, ‘It’s just so beautiful.’”
We hope to continue our weekly Stars of Hope parties and in the future we’re also planning some events for first responders and their families. Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers