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Mauna Kea Observatory

Aloha from Hawaii!

At 8:30am Tuesday July 1st, I met with Dr. John Barnes and his colleague from Central Connecticut State University, Dr. Nimmi Chandra Parikh Sharma to embark upon a journey to the Mauna Kea Observatory. Dr. Barnes had arranged tours of both the Gemini Space Telescope and theSmithsonian Submillimeter Array at the summit.

The journey to Mauna Kea was on the same "Saddle Road" was similar to yesterday, but the landscape of Mauna Kea was much different.  John explained how Mauna Kea hasn't been active in hundereds of thousands of years so vegetation had a chance to take hold.  The landscape was covered green in grass, and small shrubs.  

We first stopped at the Onizuka Visitors Center at 9,200 feet to get acclimated with the elevation.  This center was named after the Hawaiian Astronaut Ellison Onizuka who was one of the NASA astronauts who passed away during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.  Here we also met with Joy Pollard who would serve as our tour guide of the Gemini telescope.  Joy walked us through all of the precautions that come with going to an altitude of 13,800 feet.  The side effects of altitude sickness can be pretty scary, especially when she informed us of the chance of suffering fromCerebral and Pulmonary edema!!!! (What was I getting myself into????)

After our safety briefing, we drove up the final 4000 feet to the summit, and I was a bit nervous.  As we got to approximately 12000 feet, I started to feel the side effects.  It felt as if someone was pushing on my chest, I was having a hard time breathing, I started to feel really light headed, and my fingers started to tingle.  I was suffering from altitude sickness and I hadn't even gotten out of the car yet! Thankfully at the summit, once I walked around a bit I began to feel a bit better.  Also, Joy informed us that she would check our oxygen intake like they do at the doctors office, and oxygen tanks would be available to anyone who needed them.

It is important to note that the summit of Mauna Kea is without a doubt the most amazing view I have ever seen in my entire life.  Besides being the highest elevation I have been to, the view was breathtaking.  Looking out at the clouds below you, and Maui in the distance out over the pacific ocean is something I will never forget.

We went inside the Gemini telescope and received a VIP tour of the facilities.  Everything from the control room, the mirror maintenance equipment and the interior of the telecope itself was part of the tour.  There is a tremendous amount of equipment that goes into running an 8 meter wide mirror, and it was awesome to see.

After touring Gemini, we drove down a few hundred feet to the Smithsonian Array and received a tour of the facilities.  This telescope was actually a combination of eight satellite dishes that look for radiowaves coming from newly formed stars in our galaxy.  They have the capability of analyzing the chemical composition of the dust clouds based off of the signal they receive.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Well, that pretty much sums up the visit to Mauna Kea.


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