If there is one reason why a visit to the Windward Community College Campus is worth driving to, this venue would be it. Nestled at the base of the Koolau Mountains situated in the eastern corner of the College Campus, sits the Hokulani Imaginarium: Hawaiian for “Starry Heavens.” This “multi-media facility” rivals that of the Bishop Museum Planetarium.
A recent visit to the Hokulani Imaginarium turned out to be quite a pleasant experience. The first Friday night of each month, the planetarium features a ‘movie’ with a science-based theme that is open to the public. So on a rainy night on October 7th, my husband and I drove to the Windward side to catch the 7 p.m. show.
The operation for this venue is basically a one-man show; as the person who served as ticket agent was the same who ran the projector. Tickets were very reasonably priced at five dollars per person and a one-dollar discount for UH students. The 45-minute program for the evening was entitled, “The Search for Life in the Universe”, with narration by Leonard Nimoy. Science-fiction enthusiast that I am, I couldn’t resist checking it out.
Since our science course initially covered discussions related to the universe, perhaps this program would explore some of the theories of the universe by these early astronomers; and how it led to what we know today about our solar system.
Around the corner from the ticket booth, we passed through a small dimly lit lobby and entered the circular theater. Our host and projectionist for the event introduced himself as Joseph Ciotti, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at WCC. His approximately fifteen minute introduction about the planetarium began with a description of its interior. Beneath its white 40-foot dome is seating for approximately 70 people, which surrounds the Digistar II computerized projector station.
The seats were equipped with 3 interactive buttons on the armrests; allowing for audience participation in various questions about extraterrestrials, which were posed on the screen above. More fun than munching popcorn! He explained one of the unique features of the Imaginarium is that the Digistar II projector has “an array of special effects AV equipment”.
Since the projector is linked to a computer, just about any image that’s drawn on it can be digitally reproduced and displayed on the circular screen overhead. Thus, the term “Imaginarium” seems quite applicable for this museum! The program covered the history of mankind’s efforts to make contact with “extraterrestrial civilizations” and to look at what elements are required to sustain life on a planet. However, there were two points made that related to our science course. One was how geocentrism contributed to” the belief that humans were the most important life form in the universe” and the other was the methods used by scientists in discovering the existence and characteristics of planets.
The belief that the earth was the center of the universe led to erroneous ideas by those in authority. The idea that the other planets revolved around earth became the explanation for the elevated status of humans to “the most important form of life.” However, the heliocentric universe proposed by Copernicus challenged that idea and those in authority. Over the next 150 years “the works of Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and others provided the explanation and evidence” that led to the current understanding of the universe.
Technological advancements in astronomy confirm planetary motions. About ten years ago, scientists were able to identify a planets’ “subtle wobbles” through the use of “powerful telescopes and computing equipment.” This segment brought out the fact that as two objects orbit one another; neither is at the center of the system. They each orbit a common center of mass. Thus, there is a gravitational force that pulls the planet off its center. The resulting movement is very miniscule, but still detectable. I recall this concept being covered in earlier programs in the course.
The tremendous contributions of the early scientists in proving the heliocentric theory, laid the foundation for future generations to accurately study the universe. Had these early pioneers in astronomy kept the secrets of the universe to themselves, we would not appreciate the unique design of the universe and our earthly home.
Overall the experience to the Imaginarium was certainly worthwhile. This Imaginarium offers visitors more than just the traditional observation of the night sky. Our host, Joseph Ciotti was very enthusiastic about the program as he was about the museum. He made everyone feel welcome; adults and children alike. For example, during his introduction of the Digistar II’s capability, he promised to demonstrate some 3-D “roller coaster” features after the program. The response by the younger ones in the audience indicated that it was something they would look forward to. At the end of the evening, we were not disappointed as Professor Ciotti entertained everyone with some imaginary ‘digital rides’.