Monday, February 18, 2008

Astronomy in Hilo, Hawaii

Today is a beautiful day in Hilo. The sulfur dioxide gas being spewed from our nearby Volcano is being dispersed by the trade winds which have finally come back. Mauna Kea was perfectly clear today, covered in a blanket of snow. At the top you can see a glint of metal from telescopes on the summit.

The 13,796 foot summit of Mauna Kea is the most popular spot for optical telescopes on earth because of its incredible clear skies. This UH Astronomy website has an overview photo of the scopes on the summit, managed by countries from all over the world. The weather this winter has not been favorable for the telescopes, the massive amount of snow and ice has made it difficult to open their dome shutters and windows to view the sky. Here is the JAC CAM showing how rough the conditions are up there now.

The observatories are managed in Hilo and nearby Waimea. The impact of their presence has resulted in the entire island changing out street lights to be telescope friendly , having a very active astronomy department at UH Hilo and the creation of the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo with the world's only 3D planetarium and an incredible array of exhibits. We recently spent a morning at 'Imiloa and drove Astronomy Row in Hilo where most of the observatory management buildings are located that house the astronomers and engineers that maintain the telescopes.

Having activities, visiting scientist lectures and events about astronomy combined with fairly regular annoucements of new findings by the astronomy teams adds a special dimension to living in Hilo, Hawai'i.

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