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Hawaii – An Astronomer’s Dream

Stargazing2There are few places in the world that rival the beautiful state of Hawaii when it comes to star gazing. In fact, the summit of Mauna Kea is largely considered one of the world’s best locations to view the spectacular phenomena that our night skies have to offer. And if you get there early enough, you can catch a glimpse of a majestic sunset too!

What many people don’t realize is that Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world. Now you may be wondering how this can be, since everyone knows that Mount Everest is the highest mountain, right? This may be true, but there is a distinction between “highest” and “tallest”. While Everest has the highest elevation, rising 8,858 metres above sea level; when measured from base to peak, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is actually 10,200 metres. It just so happens that close to 6000 of those metres are located below sea level.

Looming above the clouds, the high altitude, combined with clear air and minimal light pollution creates the perfect condition for viewing everything from planets, nebulae, double stars and clusters, to the Milky Way, the rings of Saturn and even remnants of supernovas. This is precisely why both skilled and amateur astronomers from all over the world flock to Hawaii. There are 13 state-of-the-art telescopes from 11 different countries set up which professionals use to study the heavens, but the Visitors Station offers free stargazing each night for those who wish to learn more about the wonders of our galaxy. Each evening from 6 – 9 PM, volunteers set up telescopes around the station focusing on the major constellations and other noteworthy objects. The evening starts with the short film First Light, produced by PBS Hawaii, followed by an information session. When it becomes dark enough, the staff and volunteers give guests a star tour using a laser pointer to highlight objects in the night sky.

For those a little less adventurous who’d prefer not to make the trek up the mountain themselves, there are several tour operators throughout the Big Island that offer stargazing adventures for those willing to brave the cold and the altitude. If you do venture up Mauna Kea, be sure to bundle up. You may be in Hawaii, but the evening temperature at the summit can dip as low as 30 – 40 degrees F. It is also a good idea to make your way up slowly in order to give your body time to adjust to the change in altitude. As the air pressure changes, there is less available oxygen which can cause mountain / altitude sickness. Symptoms include gastric upset, dizziness, headache and fatigue. In extreme cases, altitude sickness can quickly become more serious and result in pulmonary or cerebral edema. For some, symptoms can start immediately upon ascent, while others may feel fine for several hours. Seek help if you feel short of breath, have a racing pulse, nosebleeds or any of the other symptoms associated with mountain sickness. While this type of reaction is rare, it still bears mentioning as a general safety precaution.

If you’d like to learn more about the programs offered through the Maua Kea Visitors Station, click the following link: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis

If our concierge can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask! Aloha from all of us here at Hawaii Hideaways! Have a wonderful day and enjoy your Hawaii vacation!