A Trip to the Stars—At the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island

 by Jon Klingborg, DVM

 It’s a bit of journey to the top of the Mauna Kea volcano, but well worth it. Mauna Kea is the highest point in the Pacific Basin and the perfect place for watching the stars.  At nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, it is above 40% of the Earth’s atmosphere. It's a bit of a trek, but well worth it!

  As you can know, the higher you go, the colder the air gets. By the time we arrived at summit, the temperature had dropped from the tropical 75 degrees at sea level to only a few degrees above zero.  Thank goodness the tour company was prepared and provided well-insulated suits for all of us.  We were quite comfortable while we looked out from on top of the world.

         About two hours into the trip, we stopped for a break and to eat dinner.  I had the barbeque chicken and it was delicious.

         An hour later, we took another break at the Museum & Shop just “down the road” from the observatories. As we continued to gain altitude, it soon became apparent that we were going to be above the clouds.

         Finally, we’d arrived at the summit in time for sunset.  We parked right next to one of the observatories, which was in the process of repositioning a giant telescope, so it grumbled and rumbled as the entire circular building turned.

  Looking out at the view, you can see other observatories perched at the topmost points of the volcano.

          Sunset brought more spectaculars view as blue sky gave way to black.

          Heading back down the volcano, we stopped off at a turn out where our guide set up a telescope. There, we were able to stargaze in a small group.  We were actually able to see the red spot on Jupiter with perfect clarity.  AMAZING!

Another stop at the Museum & Gift Shop, and then it was time to head home. We arrived late that night (10 pm), with a feeling of awe and contentment that cannot be described.