Wayfinders: Episode One. “Gomi”
AD 2223, the Milky Way is a sour mess of depleted stars, toxic sludge-planets, debt slaves, and the ultra-rich Intergalactic Bankers huddled in “Gated Resorts” in the Galactic core. A family of Hawaiian-Canadian cosmonauts is hunted across spiral arms and nebulas by a planet-consuming bank for unpaid student loans. Hiding among the embers of dead civilizations, they utilize ancient-Hawaiian star navigation techniques, recycle interstellar flotsam, and harness the mysterious dark energy of the void to keep their domestic boat afloat.
The first episode of our family science-fiction series! Watch, enjoy, share!
Astronomical log here from the recent camping trip. For a stint of deep space star gazing, North Shore of Oahu. Far beyond the blindingly light polluted galactic core of Honolulu, past the nebulous dust lanes of Haleiwa tourist traps and overhyped, overyelped, overpriced shrimp trucks playing the Authenticity Game (tm).
Conditions were mostly cloudy, fast moving cumulus. This was my first christening of the Celestron Astromaster LT 60AZ I scored at Christmas. The telescope is a half-step above absolute starn00b. A 60mm refractor, on an altazimuth mount. Setup itself is a sinch but using the finderscope — a kind of celestial sniper-rifle apparatus — proved more difficult, a bit of slam-head-against-picnic-table affair. Designed to allow one to fixate the primary objective lens on the desired object easily, the sighting procedure involves aligning two orange dots on your planet/binary star/nebula/etc — simple enough, right? Problem: what the brochure and 12-language instruction manual describe as a “LED-projected dot” in reality appears as a miasma of vaguely circular smudges that resembles the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. Trying to aim with this mechanism is like aiming a gun with ironsights designed by Salvador Dali. Then there’s the fact you have to basically do a handstand to get your head positioned to sight any object above 35 degrees declination.
CONDITIONS: Partly cloudy, high-speed thick puffballs = moderate atmospheric turbulence = limited visibility = fuck.
TIME: 8 - 11 PM
NOTABLE OBSERVATIONS: Jupiter, Orion Nebula, NGC 2362 (open cluster in Canis Major) Messier 31 (Andromeda Galaxy), Messier 45 (Pleiades)
Seeing Jupiter for the first time in an analog, non-mediated fashion is a milestone experience. Using the 20mm eyepiece (40x magnification), the largest gas giant appears as a tight white BB pellet surrounded by two to four moons. I was amazed to see the position and number of the Galilean moons changing every hour or so — Io, the innermost whips about the entire 86,000 mile diameter in 13 hours. First, there’s the striking cosmic beauty of the whole ordeal. Then the super-ego rush of perspective starts to set in; there’s not just a lot of blinky dots scrolling across the sky like a slow-moving braille Twitter feed. There is actual stuff going on up there. There’s there there. There are whole worlds, much bigger than one’s own, busily shifting streets of tan and tangerine and giant red storms of activity the size of the entire Earth.
And then to realize this is the sight Galileo himself witnessed, these mystery-shrouded celestial bodies spinning around one another, and with that observation breathed new life into the idea that not everything revolves around the Earth, and by extension, the Roman Catholic Church. The sight that caused cataclismic paradigm shifts in the entire natural, social, political, and religious worlds.
I’ve since been converted to the Nicholas Carr-ian, Baudrillardian philosophy that there is indeed something essential, possibly vital to pure experience that is lost in mediated transmission, wavelengths occluded by the ubiquitously scrolling Cloud, the “atmospheric interference” of the digital and constructed.
Andromeda itself — the approximate “mirror image” of our own Milky Way — I have spotted before atop the highest vehicle-accessible peak in Honolulu that does not require a Booz Allen-level NSA clearance (all the best telescopes are used for spotting North Korean ICBMs). Thankfully, I’d had multiple experience playing stellar hopscotch starting from Mirach, the shoulder of the princess constellation, hopping down the upper arm, past the elbow, into her hand, and then a sharp left. In the eight-magnitude light pollution, Andromeda appears as a fuzzy orange blot, almost like a hazel eye flanged with murky cataracts. In the aphotic black of the dark site, the daughter of Cephus is not quite the spectacular Hubble centerfold seen at the top of a Google Image search with heavily detailed, gold speckled spiral arms and contrasty ebon dust lanes. However, you do get a sense of the scope of the object — four times the angular width of our moon — completely filling the viewport of the Celestron at lowest magnification. The night was, again, a congested astral Autobahn of fucking puffy white rainmakers, but I’m sure if I’d had more time and clarity I could’ve picked out at least a couple hints of the black dust lanes.
The Orion Nebula was a familiar friend seen through a slightly stronger Skype video connection. A deep periwinkle tulip of a cloud, trails streaking away on one side flanked by a steep Marianas Trench-black drop off on the other, conspicuously starless.
The MacGuffin I was really after on this camping trip — aside from allowing the screaming classroom-induced tinnitus in my right ear to subside — was the elusive but much sought after Messier-1, the Crab Nebula. Basically invisible anywhere else on my island, I was hoping to catch a glimpse. The remains of the last supergiant to have died within out galaxy in 1054 AD, witnessed by astronomers and peoples across the world from China to Arabia to Polynesia. An omen of the end of the world, a sigil of a great king being born, and surely a hundred other fates were divined from that single event. Said to have been “second sun” burning alongside our own day star for three days, it outshone the hundreds of billions of stars within our own galaxy for a brief blink in geologic time. With my epicly shit sighting apparatus, the turbulence and cloud cover, my daunting lack of skill, the limited light collection ability of the 3-inch aperture, and the eighth magnitude very dimness of the Crab… Finding it was, without qualification, a long shot. Oh, and I’d misplaced the scrawled starhopping directions to the Crab. That too. I hopped up past Aldebaran to the great bull’s left horn, dancing to the right. I swept the approximate vicinity of the great supernova remnant for a few minutes, to no avail, unfortunately.
I did manage to spot a bird flying across the aperture, which may have eaten a crab, and the thought made me feel good about myself.
Toward the end of the one-person star party, there was but a single, hand-sized hole in the now thoroughly full, dangerously charcoal-black nimbostratus blanket of clouds. I was glad to spot Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, the argent-white main-sequencer cutting through the gloom at -1.41 magnitude. It became obvious why it was chosen as the go-to zenith star of Tahiti by the ancient Polynesian navigators — AKA “A’a” Hawaiian for “burning brightly”. If you were voyaging the 2,600 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti, with only a half-hull full of poi, breadfruit, and a few ipus of fresh water, using only the stars as a map, you’d be going many days, perhaps weeks with overcast skies leaving you sailing blind for nights at a time — forced to wayfind by lieing in the belly of your boat, eyes closed, feeling the patterns of ocean swells to divine direction. But if you could at least latch on to this single “scorcher” searing straight through the cover, you might yet find your way to your long lost French Polynesian cousins and not be lost at sea, to be swallowed by some Antarctic white out. Or Moby Dick.
Just beneath Sirius the Dog Star, I knew, was an only mildly challenging star cluster, NGC 2362, embedded in the “heart” of Canis Major. An open cluster, its not at the high-end of my favorites list, but a nice catch nonetheless, especially as that final pocket of clear sky was swallowed in a fog of white, then slate grey, and then the cool wet pitter-patter started touching down, and it was time to pack it back into the tent.
Screen-shot from today’s filming! Mysteriously incandescent space junk in PKR’s cargo bay.
some detail shots of the Captain’s coat. added pockets, patches, electronics for the technician on the go. fashion of the space-future!
Speaking of costumes!
Ship captain, pilot, and cybersecurity officer of the pirate vessel known as the “Princess Kaiulani’s Revenge”. Asymmetric pinhole glasses with makeshift USB-accessible lens-interface (Windows XP operating system). Exposed silicon-based chips connected to coat-mounted processor. Multicolored patches and duct tape holding together well-worn, single breasted trench.
TM’s costume so far for our family project: wayfinders