The very top of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is home to several world-class astronomical facilities and high-powered telescopes. They are set on its peak located about 14,000 feet (4,200 meters) high. Because of its high location, the air here is significantly thin with the sky typically clear. These factors, among others, make it one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observations. Currently there are thirteen telescopes on or near the summit which are funded and operated by eleven different countries. The public is not allowed up inside the observatories without invitation, however, it’s worth going up just to see the sunset from the clearest vantage point.
At the 9,300 feet (2,900 meter) level of Mauna Kea, which is the Onizuka Center (aka Mauna Kea Visitor Center), there is a nightly stargazing program held every night of the year from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM. Sponsored entirely by public donations, this program is conducted free of charge. At 6:00 PM the nightly show will include a video presentation, which takes an hour. After which, when it’s dark, can look at the night sky using their telescopes in addition having volunteers to answer any of your questions. But the night sky from up here, with your naked eye, is almost unbelievable. It was surreal. I never saw more stars in my life than I did up here! And, up here, in this desolate landscape, you can find some of the most unique and outwardly flora you’ll ever see on this planet.
I was very lucky that I got a chance to go even higher, all the way to the top of Mauna Kea on an educational excursion with a group from the University of Hawaii Manoa. It was a rare opportunity to meet some of the scientist and see the work they are doing. Though, I lost most of my photos of the visit in an unfortunate accident (I accidentally deleted most of the files – stupid, I know).
If you love looking at the night sky as much as I do, or if you have a fascination for other worlds, this is a place you don’t want to miss. It is home to the tallest volcano and the most powerful telescopes on the planet. Aside from the views of the universe, here you will have an opportunity to learn something new and be awed by nature.
And, although this photo was not taken on Mauna Kea, I still thought this was appropriate for this post. It’s of the lunar eclipse that occurred December 10, 2011. From Hawaii, the moon was unimpressively small. But in the dark and rainy wee hours of the morning, a few of us endured the elements to see an undeniably red moon.