North Hawaii News Articles from CFHT

Surfin' in Hawaii

I was on the beach last week, enjoying the sunshine after catching a few waves from the South swell. I talked to the fellow next to me. To make a long story short, he was in absolute disbelief when he saw my board and I told him I was an astronomer. So I'd like to double check with you: What do you think astronomers look like? I mean, in real life? What is your image of "the" typical astronomer?

Do you have that old-fashioned guy in mind, the gentleman in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe next to a telescope? Nice guess, but naaaa, try again. They don't make them like that anymore. What about the "mad scientist" look? Wild hair, funny clothes that don't match, ring glasses... well, although it is a closer description of me, it does not really apply to the majority of astronomers either.

And what if all astronomers were good surfers, really good surfers! Did you know we actually spend most of our days doing just that, surfing. And you can tell my boss too because I'm talking about surfing the internet! Of course, I surf too, real surf, but less often and I still qualify as a safety hazard for my surf buddies I guess. But that's a different story.

So, in this week's column I would like to share with you a few of my surfing tips. Nice internet addresses that contain entertaining and informative material for the sky gazer in each of us. Of course this list is not complete and, well, I'm listing my favorites only. But it may be a good start.

Internet is rapidly growing in popularity and the amount of information available on the WEB is just astonishing. You can find everything out there! To us astronomers, it has become as useful as a pocket calculator.

Internet started about thirty years ago, mostly driven by national defense purposes. It was also used by universities and research labs. It took off fairly slowly but since the early nineties it has been used by a wide and rapidly growing fraction of the population. The observatories located in Hawaii did of course follow the trend and all the telescopes located at the summit of Mauna Kea maintain websites. Our site at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope can be found at The Institute for Astronomy ( at the University of Hawaii, maintains a website with complete information about the Mauna Kea Observatories. Click on "Mauna Kea" to discover a nice aerial picture of the summit and click on a dome to identify a telescope and get its internet address.

A cool feature of many of these websites is the possibility to look at the summit in real-time. Cameras are mounted on the sides of a few buildings and the images are available, updated every five minutes or so. They allow astronomers to check whether the sky is cloudy or not for example, or whether there is enough snow to block the roads. See , about halfway down the page, under "Views of the Mauna Kea Summit".

Images with good and simple scientific explanations prepared for the non-specialist audience are also available. At Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope we set-up a page each week featuring a result obtained lately with our instruments. This page, called the "CFHT Astronomy Picture of the Week", can be found at, or more simply by clicking on the "picture of the week" button on CFHT's home page.

Another site called the Astronomy Picture of the Day, offers a daily astronomical image. The topics covered are wide, but the explanations attached to the images are shorter. The site has been going since 1995 and contains the largest collection of annoted astronomical images on the internet. Find it at . For those of you interesting in finding where the stars and planets are, their names and Myths, and many other information, the Skywatching Center ( or the web site of the monthly astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope ( is for you.

All the addresses quoted above contain numerous links to other sites. They should guarantee hours of fun and unexpected discoveries. Surf's up, got to go!

Francois Menard
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope