Two Teens And Their Mama: Seeing Stars

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seeing Stars

Sunset from Mauna Kea high above the clouds

On our trip to Hawaii in 2009, a friend suggested we visit the Mauna Kea Observatories, located at 13,796 feet on top of an inactive volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Due to the low humidity, clear skies and lack of city lights, Mauna Kea is one of the finest observatory sites on the planet.

We left Kona about three hours before sunset.  Our first stop was the Visitor Information Center at 9,200 feet.  Because it only takes a few hours to go from sea level to almost 14,000 feet, it's important to stop here and acclimate for 30 minutes or so.  



Soon we continued our way upward to see the observatories and watch the spectacular sunset from the top of the world.  There are currently thirteen optical and infrared telescopes being used for astronomical research at Mauna Kea.  All of them are privately owned and not open to the public, but visitors are welcome to walk around outside.



Because there is 40% less oxygen at 14,000 feet, we only stayed long enough to watch the sunset and take a few pictures.  Some members of my family (who shall remain nameless :) were not feeling too well after only twenty minutes at the summit.  It was also COLD and windy - something we weren't accustomed to after a week in Hawaii.



We headed back down to the Visitor's center for the Stargazing Program, which was the highlight of the night.  High powered telescopes were set out manned with experienced guides to explain what we were seeing.  Because Hawaii is near the equator, you can see stars from the Southern and Northern Hemispheres from there - 85% of the stars that are visible from earth.

It was a spectacular experience.  Through the telescopes we were able to clearly see Saturn and its rings, Mars, the complete Southern Cross, and the Great Andromeda Galaxy. The guides used laser pointers to draw out the constellations - and the boys got quite a lesson in zodiac signs.


It's not your normal Hawaiian activity, but it was a once in a lifetime experience to see the sunset and stars from Mauna Kea!


26 comments:

  1. I know what our family will do if we ever go on a trip to visit all 50 states and we wind in in Hawaii! That sounds and looks so beautiful!

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    1. I hope you are able to travel to Hawaii someday - it's so beautiful!

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  2. That sounds spectacular! We haven't been to the big island yet. It's on my list now for sure!

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    1. The Big Island is my favorite of all the Islands, because there's such a variety of activities to do.

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  3. I will never forget how black it was at night on the roads coming down from the Observatory from all the lava fields - everything about Hawaii is truly amazing. Thanks for the memory!

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    1. I forgot about that! I agree - Hawaii is amazing!

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  4. You got to see Saturn's rings! That's like seeing Dolly Parton's Boobs!

    I'm just a little jealous. Just a little.

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  5. What a wonderful adventure - I am adding this to the vacation things to do list! I have only ever been in the airport in Hawaii (doesn't really count!). Hope to get there some day!

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    1. You need to get back to Hawaii and stay longer!

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  6. Oh my we will have to do this when we finally take the kids there next year (I hope)!

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  7. I've been to two Hawaiian Islands but now I see that I missed out on an experience. What a great picture to remember it by.

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    1. Thanks Karen. The Big Island is our favorite.

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  8. Added this to Pinterest! We've been to every state but Hawaii and Alaska I will be planning those after our cross country trip! Got talk hubby into flying first! I've been a star gazer for years. Have you ever gottenvto see the northern lights from where you are at? That's also a big dream!

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    1. Every time the Northern Lights are "out" it's cloudy here - so I've never gotten to see them. My hubby has seen them in Alaska though. I would love to see them too!

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  9. One of my life dreams! I should have gone when I lived in SF because it would have been a much easier trip, than getting there from the east coast!
    Also, I feel like I would get altitude sickness, but maybe not really. I would just think I had it! I'd give it to myself mentally.

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    1. I'm pretty sure my husband and older son talked themselves into feeling sick. I just remember being a little light headed and needing to move around slowly. But it was totally worth it!

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  10. I've never been to the big island, thank you for sharing this information and it is odd to see jackets being worn in Hawaii. I guess it can snow up at those elevations too.

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    1. We were there in July and it was cold at the top. They do get snow there in the winter time!

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  11. You make me want to go back to Hawaii -- right now! We went on our honeymoon and we did this excursion where you wake up at about 3am? and are driven to the top of a volcano (can't recall which one) to see the sunRISE. Well, let's just say it was a cloudy morning and no sunrise was seen...HOWEVER, the best part of this trip (in my opinion) was riding bikes back DOWN the volcano and on the way down, we saw the most spectacular rainbow -- which also made up for the no-sunrise part.:)

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    1. I've always wanted to do that trip on Maui - Haleakala I think? I've heard so many good things about it - sounds fun!

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