Stargazing in Hawaii

I captured this image during the summer of 2012 when we  were out in Hawaii for a week. We were on the Big Island and after spending the day sight-seeing and looking around the place. That evening we were planning a trip to Mauna Kea to see the telescopes and watch the sunset – hopefully. Assuming there was no cloud cover to hinder the view. We were going with a great tour company that picked us up around 16:10 in the afternoon and dropped us back around 23:30 at night. They were called Mauna Kea Summit Adventure. Our driver for the day was Chris and I have to say that he was very knowledgable with regards to the formation of rocks and mountains on the island, the flora and fauna and your general knowledge topics.

We collected a few more fellow tourists shortly after 16:30 and then headed up to the Mauna Kea visitor centre to acclimatise and grab a bite to eat.  At the visitor center we were given Parka’s and gloves for the summit. We had compression leggings on as an extra layer underneath our trousers. They came in handy later on at the summit when we were admiring the sun setting and taking photos.

From the visitor center it was a steep 30 minute drive to the summit with one stop to take some photos. They recommend that you have a 4×4 wheel vehicle if you are going to do this trip on your own as the road is unpaved shortly after leaving the centre and pretty bumpy. The gradient is steep as well in places. Once we got to the top, we got a quick talk from one of the guides re the telescopes and their usage and then headed towards the summit. We arrived approximately 15 minutes before sunset and setup our tripods and cameras for the amazing views.

The stop at the Visitor Center is necessary to allow your body to acclimate to the altitude in order to avoid altitude sickness at the summit which is located at 13,796 feet. The group usually arrives at the summit about 30 minutes before sunset and you spend the next hour or so watching the sun set as well as learning about the various observatories located at the summit and the work that they are doing.

Needless to say the views from the summit at sunset are amazing, yet the longer one remains at the summit, the more likely you are to begin to feel slightly dizzy and somewhat foggy due to the altitude. It is for this reason that the tour only remains there for an hour.

Following sunset we descended the mountain back to the Onizuka Visitors Center for a quick toilet break and then onto the area on the Saddle Road used by the Hawaii Girl Scouts for camping at about 6000 feet. Here we had about an hour to stargaze.

Our guide, Chris, set up a very impressive 11″ Celestron CPC 1100 telescope and proceeded to give us a wonderful lesson in the night skies of Hawaii, perhaps the clearest and most expansive views of the heavens available from the surface of the earth. Due to its proximity to the equator, from Hawaii you can view almost all of the stars of the northern hemisphere as well as about 70% of those of the southern hemisphere. In fact you can even watch the Southern Cross rise above the southern horizon as the night progresses. Seemingly it takes approximately 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the night sky. The view was spectacular and really clear. There was no light pollution anywhere and the only light we saw was from the guides red flashlight – so that we did not have to let our eyes readjust to the sky again.

The star gazing aspect of this tour is very educational and informative. You learn of the names of the stars and constellations, not only the names that we have been taught in the west, but also their Hawaiian names and what these stars and constellations meant to ancient Polynesians and Hawaiians.

Equipment Used:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
Tripod and shutter Release
EXIF: ISO 3200 f/2.8 28s 0ev 25mm

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