Big Isle man puts stars within reach


POSTED: Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wayne Fukunaga has stars in his eyes every night, and it's an experience he loves to share. The longtime astronomy enthusiast conducts “;heavenly”; one-hour programs every week at several resorts on the Big Island's Kohala Coast.

In his opinion, stargazing is a great pastime because anyone can do it. A basic $75 telescope enables fledgling astronomers to see craters and mountain ranges on the moon as well as thousands of stars invisible to the unaided eye.

“;Curiosity, the primeval urge to experience and to learn something firsthand, is at work in stargazing,”; Fukunaga said. “;We are drawn to look through a telescope in the same way that we slow down to rubberneck when we pass a car accident.”;

In 1962, he received a 30-millimeter spyglass telescope from Longs as a gift for his seventh birthday. From the moment he first peered through its eyepiece, he was hooked. The 60-millimeter telescope Fukunaga got for his 11th birthday fueled that passion.

“;I could see more details on the planets with it, including Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons,”; he said. “;The next year, I began shooting black-and-white photos with that telescope, and I learned how to develop the film in my home lab. I produced amazing images of the moon for science projects throughout middle school and high school.”;





        Sessions are held at the following resorts:

» Bay Club at Waikoloa Beach Resort: Mondays, 8 to 9 p.m. 886-4455.


» Hapuna Beach Prince: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 8 to 9 p.m. 880-1111.


» Hilton Waikoloa Village: Tuesdays (Thursdays during June, July, August and the last two weeks of December), 8 to 9 p.m. 886-1234.


» Fairmont Orchid: Fridays, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.; 887-7368.


» Cost: $30 for adults, $15 for children 5 to 11, free for ages 4 and younger. Adults receive a star map, a red LED light and an astronomy booklet and postcards. Children get a star map, coloring booklet, crayons and an activity sheet. A session also is held at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai's Pahuia restaurant from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays as part of the Surf, Sand and Stars buffet dinner. It doesn't include handouts. Cost is $85 for adults, $42.50 for children 5 to 12, free for kids age 4 and younger. Call 325-8000.


» Reservations: Required. Call the hotels to book a regularly scheduled session. Minimum is six and maximum is 30 people. Call 323-3481 to book a private session.


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» Web site: www.stargazehawaii.com


» Notes: Attire is resort casual. During the winter it can be chilly at night, so bringing a sweater is recommended. Private stargazing and astrophotography sessions start at $500 and $750, respectively, depending on the size of the group and the equipment required.


An optical and electrical engineer with a keen interest in physics and computer science, Fukunaga can easily converse with a scholar holding a Ph.D. in astronomy. Though self-educated, he has kept up with news and innovations in the field by doing related projects, participating in online discussion groups and reading books, magazines and scientific studies.

He has built telescopes and electronic control systems for telescopes and has shot thousands of photos of the sun, moon, planets and stars. Before launching Star Gaze Hawaii in 1992, he repaired, modified, designed and built optical, chemical and electrical systems for three commercial photo labs on the Big Island. He also owned and operated a Radio Shack store and worked in commercial photography and astrophotography in his spare time.

INITIALLY, Star Gaze Hawaii only organized events for corporate groups. The response was so positive that after two years Fukunaga began offering programs to the general public.

The location for these activities is ideal. All of the Northern Hemisphere and 80 percent of the Southern Hemisphere can be seen from the Big Island year-round. The Kohala Coast is among the best sites in the world for stargazing because of its high percentage of calm, clear nights. Tradewinds blow through the gap between the Kohala Mountains and Mauna Kea in a smooth, horizontal pattern, sweeping clouds and vog from the sky.

“;Looking through that even flow of air, we have a sharp view of the sky even at sea level,”; Fukunaga said. “;South of Kona International Airport, in places like Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua, the prevalent winds induce a low-pressure zone that creates frequent clouds and rain.”;

There's a lot of ambient light at the resorts where Star Gaze Hawaii holds its sessions, but, contrary to popular belief, that isn't a major issue. “;The primary concerns are the clarity of the atmosphere and the quality of the equipment,”; Fukunaga said. “;Our powerful Celestron 11 telescopes and well-tested methods enable guests to see objects in deep space such as planets, galaxies, stars and nebulae.”;

When mounted, these sophisticated telescopes stand 6 feet tall and weigh 150 pounds. Center stage this time of year are Jupiter, the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.54 million light-years away, and spherical or elliptical groups of stars called “;globular clusters.”; At least 12.5 billion years old, they are the oldest stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Stargazers attending the presentation at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel enjoy an additional treat: a 20-minute slide show that features an overview of our solar system, dramatic photos taken by the Hubble telescope currently orbiting 350 miles above Earth and rare footage inside 12 of 13 observatories atop Mauna Kea (the exception is the University of Hawaii at Hilo's new 36-inch telescope, which will be operational by February).

Despite their ethereal focus, Star Gaze Hawaii's programs are down to earth. Fukunaga and his staff explain concepts in astronomy and physics in layman's terms, share legends and lore about the constellations and outline them with a laser pointer so participants can spot them with the naked eye.

“;I often have spirited discussions with guests about black holes, astronomical distances, the big-bang theory, NASA missions, even the 'Star Trek' movies,”; Fukunaga said. “;We live in very exciting times. Technology has given us incredible telescopes that reveal hidden wonders, spark our desire to learn and assist in our quest to explore the final frontier.”;


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.