Tag Archives: telescopes

Observing the Observatories

Driving back to our hotel from Hilo took us across the center of Big Island.  This is a pretty high drive as you pass between the two big mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  Mauna Kea is the home to a number of observatories.  We did drive some way up the mountain to the visitor’s center.  You are already at quite some altitude at this point and you could feel the lack of air when you moved too quickly.  There was an option to drive all the way to the top but we had other things scheduled and didn’t make the trek up.

From the visitor center, you couldn’t actually see the observatories.  However, as we drove towards the turn for the mountain, we did come to a pull off where you could see them up on the summit with the sun glinting off the domes of the larger installations.  Another time I would certainly like to go all the way to the top.  However, I think I shall be alone on that trip as Nancy was already feeling the effects of the altitude.

Lick Observatory

AU0E3511.jpgHead southeast from San Jose and the terrain heads sharply up. Mount Hamilton sits ahead of you and, if you want to take the 18 mile trip up the mountain, you will arrive at the Lick Observatory. Operated by the University of California, there are many different telescopes in use. Visitors are welcome to see two of the telescopes.

C59F7649.jpgAt one time, the top of the mountain was home to quite a community including a school for the children of the staff. However, as the observations are now able to be made and controlled remotely, there is no need for the science teams to live up on the mountain. They make trips up for initial testing of instruments when they can stay in dormitories. However, once things are up and running, they can head back down the mountain. Consequently, the residents are now the maintenance and engineering staff. This means there is a far smaller number of people up on the summit most of the time.

AU0E3505.jpgThe view from the summit is very cool. We had a bit of haze in the air which limited things a little but the view down to San Jose and off to the Bay is impressive. It would have been nice to have been up there a day or so before when the skies were very clear. However, they also get some snow up there so it might have been a trickier drive up.