Did you know that the largest astronomical observatory in the world is located in Hawaii? Well it is, the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Mountain is home to thirteen telescopes. The total light gathering capacity of these telescopes is fifteen times greater than the Palomar telescope, which used to the largest telescope in the world. Mauna Kea is home to several of the largest telescopes in the world, including the largest optical telescope, the largest infrared telescope and the largest submillimeter telescope.
Mauna Kea, which means “white mountain” in Hawaiian, is aptly named as it is covered in a thick white blanket of snow for most of the year. It is the highest point in the Pacific and it is the highest island mountain in the world, measuring 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor to its summit. This is higher than Everest, which is 29,000 feet.
Mauna Kea is the ideal location for setting up telescopes to look deep within the universe. The air above it is some of the driest in the world. Clouds are almost never an issue as it has an incredibly high number of cloud free nights, which allow uninterrupted observation. It also has a tropical inversion layer which traps pollutants and moisture thousands of feet below the summit. This ensures that the summit has extremely clear air, which is important when gazing far into the universe.
The actual telescopes are off limits to the public, but you can still visit the summit. Be prepared for extremely cold and windy conditions. Also, you must be prepared for the altitude which is close to 14,000 feet. Altitude sickness can be a big issue for some people.
You should stop at the Onizuka Center before proceeding to the summit. The center is located at an elevation of 9,300 feet and stopping there will give your body a chance to acclimatize to the elevation. At the center you can see exhibits about Mauna Kea and its observatories.