Stargazing

At around 6:00PM on Saturday evening I got a last-minute invite to visit the Ishigaki's observatory from Yammie chan, one of my friends on the island. I'd actually planned to visit the observatory on two previous occasions, but both sessions were cancelled due to poor weather, so I naturally jumped at the chance.
 
ishigaki observatoryPositioned at just 24 degrees latitude, Ishigaki is an ideal location for an observatory.

Ishigaki not only suffers from far less light pollution than most cities in Japan, but positioned at only 24 degrees latitude it offers significant advantages in terms of star gazing; it's one of the few places in Japan where you can view the Southern Cross, and atmospheric conditions are generally favourable. If you cast your eyes across the mountains which lie to the north of the town you may spot a dome-shaped building perched on one of their peaks. This is Ishigaki's astronomical observatory, and it is home to a 105cm Ritchey-Chretien telescope.

telescopeIn many ways the telescope itself - a 105cm 'Ritchey-Chretien', was as interesting as the stargazing.
 
The session started with one of the scientists providing an overview of the telescope and some basic principles of astronomy. He then dimmed the lights, opened the dome, and aligned the telescope with the first object – in this case the Orion nebula. One-by-one the visitors queued up to take a glance at what is undoubtedly one of the universe's most photographed deep-sky objects (at least as far as mankind is concerned).
stargazingThe telescope is aligned for the next deep-sky object and visitors queue up to take a peek.

I've always been reasonably interested both astronomy and cosmology, but I have to confess that I was a little disappointed by the quality of the image visible through the eyepiece (although in all fairness there was no time to calibrate it for each visitor). 20 years ago I would have been very impressed, but I suspect that I've been spoiled by the astounding pictures which Hubble telescope produces, many of which are easily accessible online.

However, there's something to be said for observing the universe via a telescope rather than online; the knowledge that the light entering your eyes was either reflected off or emitted from an object located an incomprehensible distance away can make you feel rather...privileged, at least, that's the world which best describes my sentiments. That said, most impressive in my opinion was the sight of the telescope itself, along with its smooth rotation and angular adjustments during re-alignment.

The stargazing was followed by another brief talk, during which various objects which had been photographed by the telescope were presented. I couldn't help but giggle as Japanese visitors exclaimed 'eee sugoiiiii' (amazing) as images were displayed on the flat-panel screen. Don't get me wrong, I was impressed too, but I suspect that had I been in a room full of westerners the response would have been far less audible. This isn't meant as criticism, simply a cultural observation.

visitorsStargazing is followed by a presentation of planets and deep-sky objects photographed with the telescope.
Overall it was a great evening out. The vast majority of people will never step inside an astronomical observatory, and if you get the chance to visit Ishigaki I recommend that you consider adding it to your list of things to do. Thanks Yammie!

Visiting the observatory

In order to visit the observatory you have to book in advance by contacting the Ryuukyuu astronomy club. Spaces are limited, so it goes without saying that you shouldn't book unless you are 100% sure that you wish to attend; let's not give foreigner visitors a bad name. Their Japanese website can be found here: www.miz.nao.ac.jp/ishigaki/. In the near future I'm hoping to add some foreigner-friendly contact details to this page.

How much does it cost?

The sessions are completely free of charge.

Getting to the observatory

The easiest way to find the observatory is to follow the road which leads to Banna Koen's south entrance. As you approach the top of the hill you'll see a sign indicating that you should take a left turn for the observatory. Follow this winding road which leads up one mountain, then down again, then up another until you see a parking area on your left. You then take a left up a steeper hill which leads to the observatory's parking area.

When we visited there were people waiting for us not far from the first turning, perhaps to ensure that everybody knew where they were going. Once a few cars had arrived we were all given the go ahead to make the drive to the observatory.

Comments

I am going to Ishigaki in

I am going to Ishigaki in July and I'd love to visit the observatory.
How long in advance must I reserve ?