Monday | January 23, 2017
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Out-of-this-world day


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The 'Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii celebrated its sixth birthday Sunday with KTA Family FREE Day.

An estimated 2,000 people took advantage of the free admission to enjoy the exhibits, planetarium show, hands-on educational and fun activities, free birthday cake and giant hot dogs from KTA Super Stores and numerous scientific presentations collectively called "Journey through the Universe."

One particularly popular activity was flight simulators. Journey Fisher, a 7-year-old student at Volcano School of Arts of Arts and Sciences, sat on his dad Randy's lap as he deftly manipulated the joystick, putting his simulated small plane through a series of acrobatic maneuvers without crashing.

"You pretty much keep your hands on this," he said, and nodded at the joystick when asked the secret to the simulated flight. Asked if he'd crashed previously, Journey replied: "My dad made me, so yes."

Pomai Kajiyama, a University of Hawaii at Hilo student and 'Imiloa intern, held an audience in a darkened corner of the exhibit hall spellbound as he projected rotating images of Saturn, Jupiter and Io, a moon of Jupiter with numerous active volcanoes, on an exhibit developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called "Science on a Sphere." Kajiyama used an iPad to control and rotate the projected images.

"It's projected by four (LCD) projectors and the sphere's made out of carbon fiber and it weighs about 60 pounds," said Aaron Foster, an exhibit technician. Foster added there are about 80 of the units worldwide. Bishop Museum in Honolulu is home to one, as well.

Jeff Harman, the facility's sales and marketing manager, said the $165,000 display was donated to 'Imiloa.

"We're very fortunate to have this," Harman said. "We recently had the head of the physics department from MIT and he brought a group of visitors with him. And it was the first time he had seen this and he said every college, every astronomy department should have one of these."

Cecelia Rudo, an 11-year-old student at Connections Public Charter School in Hilo, said she went through "most of" the exhibits during the family fun day. She said the coolest thing she had seen was stardust.

"It's awesome and exciting to know that the stars give out gold and calcium and iron," she said.

When queried about the coolest thing he'd seen, Rudo's 9-year-old brother, Ben, held up a zip-lock bag of reddish slime and said: "It would probably be this."

Tim Slater, a University of Wyoming professor, was the day's final speaker. His "Journey through the Universe" presentation was called "Omens in the Sky: Can Comet Hunters Save the World?" Slater won over his audience with humor, saying that his talk was about "death and destruction and despair."

Noting that killer comets and meteorites about to destroy the Earth is a popular theme in sci-fi movies such as "Armageddon," Slater posed the question: "Could we call Bruce Willis and blow it up?"

"We could not call Bruce Willis and blow it up," he continued. "Why? Because when Bruce Willis had the opportunity to blow it up, he cried. We know it was science fiction because Bruce Willis does not cry."

Email John Burnett at