“Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea”

Above the clouds on Mauna Kea.

Above the clouds on Mauna Kea.

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.

Joy looking through a telescope at sunset to see some sun flares at the Visitor's Center.

Looking through a telescope at sunset to see some sun flares at the Visitor’s Center.

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.

Photo Credit: Flickr Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr Commons

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.

The red moon lunar eclipse from Hawaii.

The red moon lunar eclipse from Hawaii.

No better place than Mauna Kea to see the stars.

1) The summit at Mauna Kea is one of the only few places on the Hawaiian islands with snow. Because so, if you go here at night, and even during the day, the temperatures can be freezing. Dress appropriately for your adventure.

2) Remember you will be high up, and it may be difficult to breathe. If you have any health conditions that might be affected, this is something you must consider first.

3) The nearest gasoline station is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away, so plan accordingly.

4) The only way to get to the summit is with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. You must provide your own. The visitor center volunteers will not shuttle you to the top. Though, you can pay for private tours which will provide the vehicle and guides.

177 Maka’ala Street
Hilo, Hawaii 96720 (U.S.A.)
+1 808 961 2180

*This address and phone number is to the Onizuka Center (aka Mauna Kea Visitor Center), the highest you can go safely on Mauna Kea volcano unless you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If you choose to go higher, to the observatories, you will need 4-wheel drive vehicle. However, be aware that they will not let you in the observatories unless you have actual business up there (like I did). The best thing you can do up there is to view the sunset, after which, come back down to the visitor’s center to use their telescopes and take advantage of their well-informed volunteers. Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea

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77 Responses to “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea”

  1. RT @sichree23: RT @sichree23: “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #Stargazing #volcano http://t.co/gnZ0YdvC via @sichree23

  2. Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea http://t.co/HqZZJnsu via @sichree23

  3. Janiece says:

    Hi there Sherry Sherry I loved your great article on Colorful Footsteps. I like this blog very much, Its a real nice place to read and obtain information.
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  4. Nice picture at the top Fun explorations
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  5. Joana says:

    I wonder if this phenomena would ever happen again.
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    • Sherry says:

      I assume you are talking about the first photo. And the answer is – ABSOLUTELY! That photo is of the Milky Way galaxy. Its always there and quite visible at night, particularly on top of Mauna Kea (but also in other parts of the world).

  6. Loved this — so dreamy! RT @sichree23: “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/Tx6KefkR

  7. Poppy says:

    Even though it is said to be extinct can these still not be reactivated in an instant and causing chaos or is that just in the movies?
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    • Sherry says:

      An extinct volcano is basically a dead one. But a volcano can never completely be dead. I realize that’s almost contradictory. To clarify, an extinct volcano is inactive and will remain so, but there is a very, very small chance of it erupting again. The conditions that would cause an extinct volcano to erupt again would be so significant that the volcano would be the lesser problem and the conditions that would cause it to erupt would be the bigger one. However, the eruption would not be at an instant, there would be lots of signs well ahead of time. Hope that answers your question.

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  9. RT @Muzachan: Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea http://t.co/0cdoACAs via @sichree23

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  11. RT @Muzachan: Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea http://t.co/0cdoACAs via @sichree23

  12. RT @Muzachan: Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea http://t.co/0cdoACAs via @sichree23

  13. Hi sherry !! This is my first visit to your blog !! I happy coz on the first line i learnt some info like it is the highest volcano in the world ..nice info with some tips thx for the share !! ways to go ..
    Sheril Benedict recently posted..The Forgotten LegendMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      So glad you’re happy and that you learned something new. Thanks for visiting the site; I really appreciate it. And yes, it is the highest volcano in the world.

  14. karen murray says:

    Mauna Kea is a beautiful sacred place that is most unique and precious in the heart of Hawaiians. The Hawaiians have been very gracious to allow telescopes to be built on their sacred land. Although I love Astronomy and have worked for the Institute for Astronomy at Manoa in the past, we are already over our stated quota of structures and are pushing for an 18-story Thirty Meter Telescope the size of a huge stadium with a lens sitting on a pool of mercury that could leak and pollute the sacred lands. Please help to love our Mauna Kea.
    For more info, please visit kahea.org

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  16. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” – http://t.co/3d4Zzpye #aloha

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  18. Lily says:

    Holy smokes, that first photo is unreal. I barely know any constellation names and I’ve never been to an observatory before, but this definitely makes me really curious. I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand when the eclipse happened but it was cloudy and we didn’t see much, so it’s great you saw something!

    – Lily
    Lily recently posted..The 5 World Wonders I Saw in 2011My Profile

    • Sherry says:

      I like the first photo, too! It really shows how brillant the night sky can be high up there in Mauna Kea.

      A friend of mine in Okinawa also had the same complaint during the lunar eclipse: it was rainy and cloudy. The irony is that SE Asia was supposed to have one of the best views of the event. That’s nature for ya – sometimes it cooperate and sometimes it does not. It was rainy in Hawaii, too. But the clouds cleared up from time to time. I was lucky :)

  19. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/UXtufETC via @sichree23

  20. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/qfJqWZej via @sichree23

  21. Cam says:

    WOW – awesome photos of the stars and moon!
    Cam recently posted..Pick-Pocket Proof Travel Pants – A Product ReviewMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      Honestly the moon looks better on the photo since it was zoomed-in and blown-up. It was actually quite small in reality. Though it was definitely blazing red.

  22. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/CElPgYhl via @sichree23

  23. cheryl says:

    This is quite stunning! Sooo sooo pretty. =)
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  24. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/ULFR5Tti via @sichree23

  25. Angela says:

    This is fantastic, I would love to visit Mauna Kea and stargaze! Wonderful photos!
    Angela recently posted..Welcoming the New Year in the UAE – Abu DhabiMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      One of my favorite things to do, if the sky allows it, is to stargaze. Particularly, on Mauna Kea. Its an activity that I took for granted as a child and I find it so amazing as an adult.

  26. Wow, Sherry, fabulous photos! Love the first one — the stars seem to be falling to the earth. Mauna Kea, an amazing place. Thanks for sharing.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Looking Back at Postaday2011My Profile

    • Sherry says:

      I hope that a “star” never falls on Earth. But the image and sight of it would indeed be amazing. And even more amazing on Mauna Kea, where you are closer to the stars.

  27. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/8SSkCllf via @sichree23

  28. Pingback: “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” - Colorful Footsteps | * ~ * Good Bye @hawaiibuzz * ~ * | Scoop.it

  29. RyukyuMike says:

    Awesome photos and I always enjoy your writeups!

  30. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/FBwTaU7s via @sichree23 #Travel #Photography

  31. Amazing! RT “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/UuRZKy4q via @sichree23

  32. Those photos are gorgeous! Did you take all of them? That is a lot of stars! I have never heard of this place, but now I want to go.
    Christy & Scott recently posted..Travel Shot: The Girl in the Pink DressMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      In my opinion, if you ever go to the Big Island, this is a definite must – right after seeing Kilauea volcano. Sadly, however, not all the photos are mine. I had a mishap with my camera during the trip, to say the least. I was able to save some of the photos, but lost most of them :( Linkbacks to other people’s photos are found if you put the cursor on top of each.

  33. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/g7ViuMVY via @sichree23

  34. Looks like an amazing place to watch the stars. I absolutely love star gazing and had few good opportunities for it last year. Best one probably was at Easter Island as there really isn’t much light pollution around, but there just isn’t any high mountains like Mauna Kea around.
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    • Sherry says:

      Yeah, the height is a definite advantage at Mauna Kea – you almost seem closer to the stars. But I wouldn’t mind having an opportunity to see the starry sky on Easter Island. What an experience that must’ve been for you, too.

  35. looks awesome -> “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/pK6736J3 via @sichree23

  36. Andrea says:

    These photos are amazing! Your posts are making me want to go back to Hawaii so much
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  37. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/NAeGQAqK via @sichree23

  38. “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/I0MzWR5s via @sichree23

  39. I’ve been to the Big Island 3 times now, and I do the tour to see sunset atop Mauna Kea every single time. Such spectacular sights, and your photos are awesome!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..GREEN GEAR: How Timber Candle Company Puts “Reduce/Reuse/Recycle” Into ActionMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      Ah, its nice to know someone’s been up, too! I’ve never gone up when its sunset. I go either when its really dark or during the light of day. But I imagine this place has a spectacular sunset since its above the clouds; totally my plans for next time.

  40. Abby says:

    Wow I can’t imagine seeing the heavens like that — your photos are out of this world! (Pun intended.) ;-)
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  41. Don Faust says:

    Wow – the stars in that first photo are incredible. I’ve seen some starry nights before, but nothing remotely close to that!
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    • Sherry says:

      The view of the night sky, at this height, is better than any other place I’ve been – totally worth the effort to go up if you want to see a brilliant starry night.

  42. Beautiful photos – particularly that first one! I love watching the stars, but I rarely get the opportunity because we’re usually in big cities. When I go back to my hometown (a tiny place of 2000 people in OR), the stars are just incredible. One of the best parts of my visits back. :)
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    • Sherry says:

      You are absolutely right; its hard to see the stars and the universe when there’s so much other light around. Other than on Mauna Kea, I also love star gazing in the desert. There always seems to be so much more stars in the sky. I never really looked up at the night sky in Oregon. Might be something I have to try, since I go there often (I’ll be sure to look up when I’m not in the city).

  43. Sophie says:

    Yet another very cool reason to visit Hawaii! I really enjoy stargazing. When I was at uni (ages ago), we would go to the astronomy labs all the time, around midnight, after studying. Even saw Halley’s Comet.
    Sophie recently posted..The 11 Best of 2011My Profile

    • Sherry says:

      I really enjoyed my astonomy class at the university so much so that I, too, have spent hours gazing up in the universe using the school’s observatory. Its strange how a view that rarely changes seems to captivate so much wonder. So lucky you got to see Halley’s Comet. I missed my chance. I’m hoping to live long enough to see it, too.

  44. Wow ‘Starry’ pics and what an amazing place to visit an observatory!
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  45. Adrian B. says:

    I have to find the time to go to an astronomical observatory, one of these days, as this is something I always wanted to experience. Don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the one in Mauna Kea, though, but you never know :)
    Adrian B. recently posted..Our Best Travel Photos of 2011My Profile

    • Sherry says:

      Well, I think the universe would look just as beautiful anywhere in the our world, just as it does in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What differentiates Mauna Kea, I think, is that you can look up and see the stars so clearly, even without a telescope. Its such a great feeling to be up there!

  46. YESSSSSSSSS! RT @sichree23: “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #USA #volcano http://t.co/Tc1O2KIR via @sichree23

  47. Krissy says:

    I didnt even know there was one in 2011, I am not that clued up about this kind of thing but did wonder if it would only be visible from where you are? For example would I have been able to see this from the UK had I known about it or is it just visible from Hawaii?
    Krissy recently posted..Young Driver InsuranceMy Profile

    • Sherry says:

      I assume you are talking about the lunar eclipse. From my understanding it was visible from the UK, and at the perfect time – at moonrise, so you wouldn’t even have to wait till the middle of the night to see it or if you’re like me in the wee hours of the morning (~2AM). It was fairly visibile to most of Earth with exception to parts of the southern hemisphere.

  48. Daniel says:

    Hey Sherry,
    Great site! Keep it up,

    Let us know if you ever feel like doing some pro-bono writing work. We’re always looking for new writers.


    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for stopping by Daniel, I appreciate it! I loved reading through some of the post on your informative travel Website. Great job on the organization and presentation of information. I definitely wouldn’t mind doing a post for the site once things settle down for me.

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  51. @sichree23 Love Mauna Kea! Did you go 2 top for sunset? “Stargazing on Top of Mauna Kea” #BigIsland #Hawaii #volcano http://dld.bz/aAYt2

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