The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

The Shining Star Challenge!: Clearing a Path to the Heavens in Koisuru Asteroid’s Eleventh Episode

“Some people don’t like to admit that they have failed or that they have not yet achieved their goals or lived up to their own expectations. But failure is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are alive and growing.” –Buzz Aldrin

Mira is shocked to see Ao in Okinawa with her, but Ao explains that with everyone’s support, she’s come to observe Mira. Yuki later finalises the procedure that allows Ao to remain as an observer. Mira meets the other successful participants of the Shining Star Challenge: Asuka Tomori and Shiho Makita. Asuka is a fan of idols and applied to the competition with the goal of meeting an idol who was into astronomy, while Shiho aspires to be a counsellor and figures that participating in the challenge would let her meet more people. Following introductions, the participants are taken on a tour of the Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, including the VERA (Very-Large Baseline Interferometry Exploration of Radio Astrometry) telescope, a part of the Geospatial Information Authority’s radio telescope array, and the Murikabushi Telescope, the largest reflecting telescope in Japan that is used for visible and infrared wavelength observations. Mira and Ao separate for their evening meal after being instructed that their night will entail observing the night skies for asteroids. Back home, Mikage and Mari coordinate the Earth Science Club’s visit to JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Centre, and spend the evening with Yuki’s grandparents, who share stories about Yuki’s own participation in the Shining Star Challenge. Overcast skies dash the girls’ ability to make use of the telescope, and the technician decides to set the girls some practise on interpreting older data to prepare them for the task ahead. Fearing the weather might not be in Mira and Ao’s favour, Yū decides to make teru teru bōzu with the hope of helping the skies clear, and the next morning, Mira wakes up to blue skies in Okinawa, steeling her resolve to make a discovery before the programme ends. Koisuru Asteroid ramps up the intensity as its finale approaches, and now that Mira and Ao are on Okinawa, it’s a race against the clock to complete their childhood promise.

This penultimate episode’s portrayal of the realities of astronomy fall entirely within the realm of what professional and amateur astronomers face: cloudy skies are the arch-nemesis of every astronomer, obscuring out the ability for ground-based visible-spectrum observations to be carried out. Cloudy weather is inevitable, and as an amateur astronomer myself, I’ve seen my share of poor observing conditions cloud out otherwise rare and exciting astronomical events, such as total lunar eclipses, meteor showers and aurora peaks. This is very frustrating, to say the least, but it is also a common enough occurrence that all astronomers, professional and amateur alike, have expressed that this is something one must accept as coming with the territory. Cloudy skies are a test of every astronomer’s patience, as well as resourcefulness, and when the clouds do appear, a seasoned astronomer will take advantage of the time to learn more about their equipment and methods with the others in their party. The end result is an evening that, while not quite what was expected, was one that was nonetheless worthwhile, and this makes those nights with clear skies all the more rewarding, when patience yields dividends and those extra bits of knowledge contribute to an even more enjoyable viewing experience. This is what Koisuru Asteroid intends to share with viewers in the eleventh episode, and while their first night might be cloudy, Mira and Ao get to learn more about Asuka and Shiho a little better, as well as discover their instructor’s own background, and become more familiar with the software and techniques needed to identify potentially new objects that they end up photographing.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At the expense of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn (to clear up any ambiguity, I totally am!), I daresay that I’m currently hosting the only discussion out there on a blog that deals with the more technical aspects shown in Koisuru Asteroid and I will note immediately for anyone doubting the series’ accuracy, I have independently verified that everything mentioned in the series is correct. Koisuru Asteroid‘s portrayal of the sciences is fully accurate, and a part of the reason for this post will be to present a more accessible explanation for what the girls are doing as a part of the Shining Star Challenge.

  • The first order of business is sorting out Ao’s unexpected arrival in Okinawa with Mira; while the contest allows people to participate as observers, in the heat of the moment, Mira completely skated over this, but the turn of events will allow the two to remain together. After seeing Mira in the wings, waiting to thank the program’s director for allowing Ao to observe, I was reminded of Sam and Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring: after Frodo decides to take the Ring to Mordor during the Council of Elrond, Sam appears and promises to go with him. Elrond remarks that separating the two is hardly possible, and in this instance, similarities between Mira and Ao, and Sam and Frodo, are apparent.

  • It turns out that the remainder of the Earth Sciences Club do not endorse Ao’s actions, feeling the decision to be selfish, but because it was one born from an unshakable desire to fufill a long-standing goal, it seemed right to support Ao. Most Manga Time Kirara characters do not discuss the repercussions of certain actions, so Koisuru Asteroid stands out for being able to have its characters be more truthful about one another. Because nothing ever really stays buried for long, it allows characters to be open, and this in turn builds much stronger, more plausible relationships.

  • After arriving at the Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory’s Youth Center, the successful applicants are asked to give a brief introduction about themselves prior to a tour. Ao notices that Mira has no trouble fitting in with the others, and out of the gates, befriends Asuka after sharing an energy drink with her. While Ao’s watching, Shiho introduces herself and mentions that despite her outward appearance, Ao’s actually pretty bold, expressing a desire to get to know her better.

  • The radio telescope at Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory is a part of a much bigger array, VERA (VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry; note that Astrometry is not a typo, and refers to a subset of astronomy involved in precisely measuring the paths, trajectories and distances of celestial objects). Owing to the long wavelengths of radio waves, the phase shift becomes greater with distance, and so, large radio telescope arrays can mimic one large radio telescope with high resolution. Very-Large Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) telescopes operate on this principle, and setups like VERA use atomic clocks to syncronise their data. In astronomy, radio telescopes are used to gauge distances of astronomical objects to a very high precision by means of triangulation.

  • The technician leading the tour notes that radio observatories use MASERS (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) as the stellar objects for measuring astronomical distances: a MASER is really just any source that generates microwaves, and strictly speaking, the technician refers to astrophysical MASERs originating from extragalactic sources like quasars (super-massive objects with a high radiation output) or star-forming nebulae. It is the case that being able to compute the trigonometric parallax of these objects will give their distances, which is valuable in determining the movement between galaxies: Ao is absolutely right in describing it as cartography on an astronomical scale.

  • Observatories with optical telescopes use reflector telescopes, which use a series of mirrors to produce an image. Large telescopes are exclusively reflectors because at larger sizes, use of refracting materials will almost certainly result in the absorption of some wavelengths (degrading the resulting image) and because different wavelengths travel through a given material at different speeds, creating chromatic aberration. Moreover, reflectors are a bit easier to manufacture, assemble and maintain. At large scales, reflectors are superior in every way compared to a refracting telescope, and the reason why refracting telescopes are common amongst amateur astronomers is because they can yield satisfactory image quality while being much more compact and portable than a comparable reflector (larger Newtonian reflectors, while offering great quality, also require two people to set up, defeating portability).

  • There are several types of reflecting telescopes, with the Newtonian type being the most inexpensive per inch of aperture, but their disadvantage is that they require a very long tube. The Cassegrain reflector places the mirror in the path of the light coming in, and while the mirror’s placement creates an obstruction that reduces the brightness of the resulting image, this also allows the tube to be more compact. The Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope is a popular choice amongst amateur astronomers for their compact design, especially for astrophotography. Back in Koisuru Asteroid, with the tour complete, the students split into two groups: Mira’s group is set for optical observation, which requires darkness, while the EMR team can begin right away.

  • Exemplifying her uncommon talent of becoming close with most everyone she meets, Mira’s already got nicknames for both Shiho (Makki) and Asuka (Tomorin): aside from Ao, Mira refers to everyone else by their family name. This distinction is to reinforce the idea that of everyone she’s with, Mira is indisputably the closest to Ao, familiar enough to call her by her given name. Thus, to indicate that Mira is quick to accept those she meets, Mira’s main trait is to give people nicknames based on their family names. It would have been hilarious had Mira called Shiho “Shiporin”.

  • While Mira has dinner with others of the Shining Stars Challenge, Ao’s evening meal is with Yuki. They go to a fast food restaurant that is an A&W in all but name: there are a few in Okinawa that were opened in 1963 and was transferred to Japanese management in 1970. Because of the American presence in Okinawa, it was thought that the locals would be more receptive to American-style fast food. In Canada, A&W is Home of the Burger Family™ and boasts the best root beer this side of the planet. I’m especially fond of them for their thick-cut Russet potato fries, and their burgers are of an excellent standard, whether it be their Teen Burger (a personal favourite) or the lighter, but equally-delicious Crispy Chicken Burger. Ao, however, wants to get back to the observatory as quickly as possible and begins to scarf down her dinner (which resembles the double Buddy Burger and speaks to Ao’s relatively small eating capacity), but when one of Yuki’s friends and fellow instructor, Hayakawa, arrives, both instructors sit down to a conversation and catch up.

  • Shiho and Mira are at the top of their game with the fundamentals: both appreciate that the best way to observe asteroids is at opposition, which occurs when two celestial bodies are at opposite sides of a celestial sphere. In other words, relative to the Earth, it means the body is in the same direction as the Earth from the sun and therefore, at its closest; at this time, the body is brighter and appears larger, as well as visible for longer. Because asteroids are so tiny relative to other celestial bodies, this is the optimal positioning to locate them using a telescope.

  • Koisuru Asteroid has come to this stage at last: the astronomer explains that they will be observing small sections of the sky, with an angular diameter of 0.2°, using astrometry image analysis. Angular diameter refers to the apparent size of an object in terms of degrees, and without a diagram, it’s more tricky to explain the concept, but fortunately, there is a simple way to describe things. When one holds their hand at arm’s length, their little finger is about 1° wide, and fist is around 10°. So, 0.2° is a fifth of the little finger’s width. Here, the astronomer explains that to find asteroids and other celestial objects, sections of the sky are photographed over a period of time and then compared: the scale of 0.2º shows how small the target sections really are, and accentuates just how exacting astronomy is.

  • Any changes to the image, caused by a celestial body passing in front of a star, for instance, would indicate the presence of an object. The astronomer then explains that using software like Astrometrica or CCD Astrometry, the motion of objects that causes a blink can be tracked. However, when Mira learns that it takes time to collect enough photographs to make any sort of observation, Mira grows frustrated. Mira’s enthusiasm, doubtlessly troublesome in the real world, comes across as being adorable in the context of an anime, and I note that it is only in anime where certain mannerisms are viable – the real world tends towards folks who are more composed and stoic.

  • When Mira learns the sky is clouding over, she becomes worried. Back in Tsukuba, after spending the day introducing Chikage and Yū to the various museums and the Tsukuba Space Centre, the girls return to Yuki’s grandparents’ place, where they hear about Ao and Mira’s worsening sky conditions. Unexpectedly, it is Yū who leads the initiative to make some teru teru bōzu to help them out, before hearing a story from Yuki’s grandparents on how Yuki was as a high school student. This episode’s focus is largely on Ao and Mira, so Chikage and Yū figure less prominently than in previous episodes, and this is the first time where Moe is entirely absent from the episode.

  • As the cloud cover thickens, the girls decide to kick back and enjoy some evening snacks. Shiho comments on the appropriateness of eating after dinner, and Hayakawa mentions that the guilt factor only serves to enhance the enjoyment snacks at this hour. Yuki and Hayakawa recall that, when they’d participated in the Shiny Stars Challenge, the weather had also been unfavourable. This seems a recurring trend: I’ve been fortunate to have had good weather and bad when I’ve turned my eyes to the sky for an astronomical event, having seen meteor showers, a fireball, sky-filling Aurora Borealis, partial solar eclipses and total lunar eclipses under perfect conditions, as well as having missed out as a result of overcast skies.

  • At about the same time Yuki’s grandparents tells Chikage and Yū of her youth, the astronomer recalls Yuki’s high school days as well. In contrast to the Yuki of the present, high-schooler Yuki was much more serious and unsmiling. With Hayakawa and another classmate and Nishina, they became friends during the course of the challenge. Of everyone, Nishina ended up pursuing a career as an astronomer, and for Yuki, even though they didn’t find anything, the experience set her along her current career path. Yuki is still young, and so, when she begins talking about the importance of such experiences, the others remark on how uncharacteristically mature Yuki is, much to her embarrassment.

  • It is here that Asuka and Shiho share their reasons for taking up the Shiny Stars Challenge, and it would appear that of everyone, Mira’s reason is the most related to astronomy. By now, the skies have become completely overcast, and the astronomer decides to lead the girls in practising the techniques within the astrometry software on existing data. While it’s a disappointment to be sure, the evening accomplishes two critical things: first, it lets Ao and Mira become closer to Asuka and Shiho, and the second is that it gives everyone a chance to learn the older data sets, plus the software needed to make discoveries of any sort.

  • The next morning, the skies over Okinawa are clear, and in Tsukuba, the girls feel that their evening’s work with the teru teru bōzu have been successful. Here in Koisuru Asteroid‘s soundtrack, traditional Okinawan instruments can be heard in the incidental music. This subtle touch adds a great deal of heart to the series, and Non Non Biyori had done the same thing in its movie. Aside from the Okinawan touch in the later episodes, the soundtrack for Koisuru Asteroid is solid, and I am looking forwards to listening to the music in full: the album retails for 3300 Yen (42.42 CAD) and will have thirty-seven tracks, a mixture of incidental and vocal pieces.

  • Shiho notices that Mira is dejected; after the events of the previous evening, the number of nights they have to utilise the telescope and observe is down by one, and Mira fears that there won’t be enough time to capture an asteroid. However, she quickly picks herself back up and prepares for another day ahead, where the visible-light observers are slated to learn more about practical techniques and theory, leaving audiences to also support her.

  • Both Mira and Ao are fired up as the episode comes to a close, with a renewed determination to conclude things on the best note possible: it’s one final push to the finish line now, and what discoveries await the two will be seen on short order. The last episode is titled “Connected Cosmos”, which is aptly named, for it represents the idea that space has connected many together, starting with Ao and Mira. The choice of title is well-made, betraying nothing about what is to happen next, and so, it is with great anticipation that we now enter the finale.

With Koisuru Asteroid entering its endgame, the series has consistently maintained a high commitment towards factual accuracy, while simultaneously delivering a highly endearing and engaging journey for Ao and Mira. However, considering the lengths that Mira and Ao have gone to fulfil their promise, and all of the discoveries they’ve made along the way, I feel that from a narrative and thematic standpoint, it is only fair to at least give Mira and Ao a clear night sky in the finale so they have a shot at observing something meaningful. The odds of a youth discovering an entirely new body in one evening are astronomically slim; Koisuru Asteroid has remained very faithful towards what is and isn’t possible from a real-world standpoint, and allowing Ao and Mira to complete their dream here would almost be anti-climatic, so for the finale, I speculate that Ao and Mira will not find something of interest during their time at the Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, whether it be through visible-light observation or by digging through older records. However, their experiences will pave the way for future discoveries; Ao and Mira will both now be better equipped to fulfil their long-standing promise as they continue to pursue their goals. Such an ending would strike a fine balance between the realism Koisuru Asteroid has committed to, and at the same time, give some closure to this stage of the journey that Mira and Ao have shared so far, without closing the door on the possibility of a continuation. After all, the manga series is still running, and there is quite a ways to go yet before such a grandiose and romantic promise can be fulfilled: anything worth doing will take time and effort.

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