One of the many things to do on the Big Island is not well known to many - star-gazing! Did you know that we have 11 of the world's major observatories here on Mauna Kea? The following article will tell you more about this than I can:
Mauna Kea's VIS - Visitor Information Station - West Hawaii Today - Sunday, JUuly 23, 2006 11:06 am hst
One of the great marvels of living in Hawaii is the clear, bright and open nighttime skies. on most any night, you can see thousands upon thousand of stars, nebulas and celestial bodies gracing the sky.
One of the most awe-inspiring star gazing hot spots on the Big Island is at the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea.
The Visitor Information Station is located at the 9,200-foot elevation of Mauna Kea just off Saddle Road. to get there from Kona, travel on Mamalahoa Highway toward Waimea. turn right just after the 6 mile marker onto Saddle Road. turn left just after the 28-mile marker onto the Mauna Kea access road, drive about six miles and you'll see the VIS on your right.
Before you begin your journey, you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle if you plan to go to the top of the world and visit the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea. the road to the vis is paved, but the pavement ends there. the 5.5 mile drive to the summit is a steep, graded-gravel road.
The VIS is a required stop if you plan to travel to the summit of Mauna Kea. this will give you a chance to find out the current weather conditions for the summit and to adjust to the summit's altitude.
Altitude sickness is a serious concern. observatory employees who travel to the summit regularly recommend that you drink plenty of water on your trip up to the vis and the summit. they also recommend that you spend at least a half -hour adjusting to the altitude at the vis and that if you do not feel well (nausea, dizziness, headaches), do not go up to the summit.
VIS staff and volunteers also suggest that pregnant women, people with heart or respiratory problems, and people under the age of 16 should not go any farther up the mountain than the VIS. also, scuba divers should not go to the summit within 24 hours of a dive.
Even if you don't plan to visit the summit, it can be an adventure just visiting the vis. the vis is manned by vis staff, Mauna Kea rangers and volunteers, every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The VIS is a wealth of astronomy information. visitors will find interactive tours of the Keck, Gemini, and Cal Tech observatories. throughout the day, the vis plays safety movies and informational segments on Mauna Kea. there is a bookstore where visitors can browse through and buy books about astronomy and hawaiian culture. in addition, snacks and drinks are available to help keep visitors warm in the cold temperatures.
The real draw to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station is the collection of telescopes. during the day, visitors can view the sun, its solar flares and hot spots through a solar telescope that is equipped with protective filters. in the evening after 6 p.m., the star gazing program begins with a video about Mauna Kea called "first light." this video was produced by PBS Hawaii in 2004.
After the video, visitors can view the stars through one of several telescopes. during the stargazing event, vis staff and volunteers point the telescopes at objects in the night sky. visitors will see star clusters and double stars, nebulas and planets, galaxies and supernovas, and remnants of supernovas. in addition, visitors will be taken on a constellation tour of the sky. all this lasts until 10 p.m.
The vis has two "do-it-yourself" telescopes with 4-and 6-inch mirrors. this allows visitors to do their own space exploration. these telescopes are also great for the kids, allowing them to explore the sky on their own. the largest telescope at the vis has a 16-inch mirror. three other telescopes are computerized and automatically track objects as they travel across the sky.
"The Universe Tonight" is a presentation that the VIS hosts on the first Saturday of each month. astronomers and others tell visitors about current research, observations and discoveries occurring at mauna kea observatories. the presentation begins at 6 p.m. and is followed by a night of stargazing.
Malalo i ka lani po is a special presentation covering cultural components that surround Mauna o Wakea. hula groups do chants and dances related to the mountain. this presentation begins at 6 p.m. on the third saturday of each month and is followed by the regular stargazing program.
If you enjoy music, visit the vis on the fourth Saturday of each month for international music night. the international volunteers from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii community college play a variety of instruments in a variety of styles during the stargazing program.
Meteor showers draw a big crowd to the vis. when there is a well-known meteor shower, the vis stays open past its regular closing hours to host all night star parties. the next all-night party is scheduled for Aug. 12 for the Perseid meteor shower.
Whether waiting to acclimate to the high altitude or for the sun to set and the star gazing to begin, visitors can explore the trails that run near the VIS.
One trail is an enclosed nature walk where visitors can see some of the silversword plants that grow on Mauna Kea. Another trail leads to the top of a cinder cone where visitors can enjoy the setting sun and watch the stars as they pop out one by one for an evening of star gazing enjoyment.
If you go: Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station phone numbers
- to ask questions call (808) 961-2180
- to find out weather conditions call (808) 935-6268
Mauna Kea is a sensitive environment, leave the landscape as you find it.
- do not disturb the terrain or build rock piles.
- stay on designated roadways and trails.
- do not drive off the road.
- do not litter.
For those who enjoy the luxury of letting someone else do the driving, there are several commercial tour companies that provide transportation, warm clothing and a guided tour up Mauna Kea.
- Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures (808) 938-4870
- Big Island Golf Tours, Inc. (Japanese language tours) (808) 331-0733
- Hawaii Forest & Trail (808) 331-8505
- Hawaiian Eyes (808) 937-5555
- Jack's Tours (808) 969-9507
- Meridian HRT (Japanese language tours) (808) 331-8680
- Paradise Safaris (808) 322-2366
- Robert's Hawaii Tours (808) 329-1688
- Taikobo Hawaii (Japanese language tours) (808) 329-0599