Monday, 30 August 2010

Night Four of our Jupiter observations, Mauna Kea Observatory

This is our last night observing, so we had a last look at a Mauna Kea sunset, coming up just after dinner at Hale Pohaku. We also brought my wife, Vanessa, my daughter, Lisa, and her partner, Mark, up to see the telescope. It was Lisa and Mark's first time on the mountain. Mark is a professional artist (, specialising in abstract painting. He was absolutely stunned by everything he saw - the light, the colours of the mountain and of the sky, the silhouettes of the mountains and the telescopes as the sun went down - and now has enough photos to inspire his art for years ahead.

On the way up to the summit we stopped by the roadside to look at the Hawaiian Silversword. This is an endangered species in Hawaii, and - according to the Institute of Astronomy's website on Mauna Kea Plants ( is a member of the "Silversword Alliance". Sounds very dramatic!

During the last Ice Age, Mauna Kea was covered by glaciers. It must have been absolutely spectacular, since the volcano was active then, spewing out red hot lava by the millions of tonnes. On the ride up to the summit, you go through the middle of the Ice Age Reserve. You can really see the effects - large, smooth valleys carved by the ice, and huge mounds of boulders, called moraines, that were carried by the glaciers and then left there when the ice started to melt again.

Back on the observing front, sometimes things don't quite work right, and you just don't seem to be able to fix it. Tonight is one of those nights. The sky is beautifully clear, the spectrometer is working perfectly, but we have had some trouble with the guide camera, which has decided to save our images rather differently from normal. Nothing we cannot live with, but unexplainably odd. And it means we are having to do manually what used to happen automatically - keeps us focussed.

As soon as we finish tonight, with another haul of amazing images and spectra, we will be heading back to Hale Pohaku for breakfast and then down the mountain to Hilo. It's always sad to leave the Observatory behind, but the extra oxygen at sea level is very welcome. Indeed, it can often inspire you to take on tasks you would normally try to put off. This time I have promised Henrik he won't have to cut down any trees in the jungle that backs onto my wife's back yard!

Our thanks go to all those at the Observatory and at Hale Pohaku who have help to make our observing run such a success.

No comments:

Post a Comment