Next year is an important one for the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium at Bishop Museum.
On Dec. 11 our planetarium turns 50. Originally called the Kilolani Planetarium, ours was the first planetarium in Polynesia. Hundreds of thousands of island schoolchildren have passed through the doors over the last half-century. In addition, millions of local residents and visitors alike have learned about Hawaiian skies under our 30-foot dome.
The planetarium played a central role in the recovery of Polynesian navigational skills in the 1970s. Members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society learned celestial navigation in large part under our dome before putting those skills to work on a double-hulled canoe on the open Pacific.
The planetarium’s official demise was announced in the late 1990s as we made plans to build a combination planetarium-Omnidome on the same spot. By the early 2000s we shelved those plans and decided to restore the existing, historic planetarium. We installed a new star machine from Goto Inc. in 2000. In 2003 the support of the Watumull family allowed us to renovate, with new seats, carpet and lighting. It was at this time that the planetarium got its new name.
Now we are exploring the next set of greatly needed upgrades. While I’m thrilled to announce that we have Dinosaurs Unearthed coming back to Bishop Museum (March 5 to Sept. 5), I’m less thrilled about the other ‘dinosaurs’ at the museum—the aging slide projectors that we still use for visuals in our planetarium. It’s time to bring the newest educational technology to the schoolchildren and general public visiting our planetarium. We’ll take steps this year to convert our planetarium to an all-dome digital video system that will immerse the audience in vivid, moving images of space.
As we move to a new future, we’ll keep the best aspects of what we’ve done in the planetarium so far, including a continued commitment both to live and genuinely interactive programming, and to programs that are rooted in Hawaii.
Jupiter remains the blazing light in the evening skies, brighter than even the brightest wintertime stars. Jupiter shines at minus 2.32 magnitude at the start of the month and minus 2.17 magnitude at the end. At the start of January, Jupiter is two-thirds of the way up in the west at dusk; by the end of the month, it’s only halfway up the western sky when it gets dark. Jupiter sinks down the western sky in the course of the evening, setting by 11:30 p.m. at the start of January and by 10 p.m. at the end of the month. Look for the waxing crescent moon next to Jupiter on Jan. 9 and 10.
Venus is that blazing light you see in the early morning sky throughout January. Venus rises three hours before the sun; you can’t miss it in the morning sky if the eastern skies are clear. It starts the month at minus 4.5 magnitude and still shines at minus 4.25 magnitude at the end of January. Look for the old crescent moon next to Venus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning and again on Jan. 28 and 29.
Mercury pops into the morning sky in early January as well. Look for it rising in the east at 5:40 a.m. around the first half of January. It will remain visible (if you have a clear eastern sky) till the rising sun washes it out around 6:25 a.m. Shining at minus 0.3 magnitude by Jan. 9, Mercury will outshine all morning stars, though it is in turn outshone by the blaze of Venus above it. Use the waning crescent moon to find Mercury at the start of January; the moon is just above Mercury on Saturday and just below Mercury next Sunday.
Saturn rises in the east at 1 a.m. at the start of January and by 11 p.m. at the end of the month. This means it will be high in the southeast by the time much-brighter Venus joins the planet show around 4 a.m. Shining at 0.7 magnitude, Saturn is just above Spica, a bluish star of almost equal brightness. Look for the third-quarter moon next to Saturn on Jan. 25.
The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on the evening of Jan. 3-4; stay up late on the 3rd and then look for shooting stars on the early morning of the 4th. The shower does have a sharp peak, which unfortunately occurs around 3 p.m. Jan. 3, well before dark. But it’s worth checking out. One big plus: there is no interference from the moon.
The map for January is good for 9 p.m. at the start of January, 8 p.m. in the middle of the month and 7 p.m. at the end of January. Hold this map over your head to line up the four directions.
The entire eastern half of the sky is now taken up with the blazing stars of winter. Look for Orion the Hunter high in the southeast, with its familiar hourglass shape, distinctive belt of three stars and brilliant stars Rigel and Betelgeuse. Other winter constellations in the southeastern sky include Auriga the Charioteer, with its brilliant yellow star Capella. The term Hokulei ("lei of stars") is applied both to the star Capella and to the constellation Auriga as a whole. Look also for Gemini, marked by the twin bright stars Castor and Pollux; for Canis Major, with its star Sirius (‘A’a in Hawaiian, the fire star), the brightest star in the sky; and Taurus the Bull, with the reddish Aldebaran marking its eye.
Three bright stars shine low in the south. Canopus is the second brightest star in the sky. It’s also a good example of a star we can see from Hawaii, but which never rises above the horizon in most of the mainland. To the right of Canopus, look for bright stars Achernar and Fomalhaut.
Looking north, the constellation Cassiopeia is high overhead. The three middle stars of Cassiopeia’s "W" form an arrowhead that points roughly to the North Star. Pegasus with its "great square" is high in the west. Pegasus looks like a kite, especially if you add Andromeda, two strands of stars that make a nice tail to the kite.
Look for the Little Dipper in the north, with the North Star in its handle.
Stars not on the map:
The Big Dipper will be entirely up by midnight at the start of January and by 10 p.m. by month’s end.
The Southern Cross rises in the southeast at 4 a.m. in early January, and by 2 a.m. at the end of the month.