Amateur Astronomers

During the 1930s and 1940s a growing number of amateur astronomers felt the need for some form of organization and the availability of astronomical information tailored to Hawai`i. E. H. Bryan, Jr., responded to this latter need by preparing a booklet entitled Stars Over Hawai`i in 1955 (7). It contained a star chart for each month for the latitude of Hawai`i. It also contained, in addition to basic astronomical information, some material on Polynesian astronomy, and an interesting discussion of the path of the Sun at this latitude. There are times in Hawai`i when the Sun passes directly overhead, which occurs nowhere else in the United States. This book received wide circulation and certainly must have had a significant impact on astronomical literacy in Hawai`i. Bryan also initiated the monthly publication in a local newspaper of the current star chart and a description of astronomical phenomena for the month, a tradition that was continued uninterrupted by the Bishop Museum Planetarium Director George Bunton and all subsequent directors to the present day. Bryan also authored numerous popular articles on astronomy in Hawai`i. Recalling also his frequent hosting of star-gazing at the Kaimuki Observatory, it is my opinion that E. H. Bryan, Jr., more than any other individual, served to inform and stimulate public interest in astronomy during the early decades of the twentieth century.

The idea of an Astronomical Society began in 1948. Regular meetings began in 1953 at McKinley High School. In June 1954 the public was invited to view Mars through amateurs’ telescopes in Kapi`olani Park in Waikiki. Public response was very enthusiastic. The close approach of Mars in 1956 prompted a second open house and, again, the telescopes were literally mobbed. But the society needed dynamic leadership, which serendipitously appeared in late 1956. Dr. Earl G. Linsley, retired director of the Chabot Observatory of Mills College had come to spend Christmas with his nephew, Dr. Linsley Gressit of the Bishop Museum. Under Dr. Linsley’s guidance the society flourished. Numerous distinguished scientists gave talks to the society, and he himself was a frequent and popular contributor.

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The Bishop Museum Planetarium soon after construction in 1962.

Dr. Linsley’s enthusiastic promotion of a planetarium and observatory at the Bishop Museum for the entertainment, enlightenment, and education of the public was successful in raising the necessary financial support from the community. Construction of a beautiful facility was completed in 1962, with a Spitz A3P planetarium projector in a 30-foot dome, and a 12.5–inch telescope in a separate astronomical dome.

From 1962 until his retirement in 1980, George W. Bunton directed the Kilolani Planetarium. During these exciting years of the dawning of the space age, Honolulu was fortunate to have a person with the knowledge, skills, creativity, enthusiasm, and ability to communicate that Bunton had as the voice of astronomy. Many hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, local citizens, and visitors from all over the world have had their horizons extended by this facility.