Aloha!

And so we say farewell to the tropics for now with this view of the summit of Maunakea from my 2009 flight back to Honolulu and then home. Most of the observatories are visible here, with the exception of the most important one for me: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope is hidden in the so-called submillimetre valley behind the main summit ridge. I’ll post some photos of that next time 🙂

Getting a port-side window seat on the inter-island flight was always a priority for an astronomer in case it was clear enough to get a view of the summit of Mauna Kea. Fortunately, it was on this occasion and although I was not in a window seat, the person next to me was kind enough to swap when they realized how much I wanted to take photos. I love the fact that I have part of the aircraft wing in the frame – it lends some context to the picture. And the side lighting – even though it’s a bit hazy and the contrast is a bit low – is quite lovely. That was one of the nicest inter-island flights I’ve had – the sunset as we approached Honolulu was gorgeous! I’ll get round to posting photos of that at some point.

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Sunrise shadow

Hawaii day 6: the enormous shadow of Maunakea cast on the clouds below at sunrise, the shiny enclosure of the Subaru telescope catching the morning light. In the bottom left is one of the antennas of the SMA interferometer.

I still remember the first time I saw the shadow of Mauna Kea cast onto the clouds below, on my very first trip to the mountain back in January 1991. It was a powerful demonstration of the fact that I was up here standing near the top of a very tall mountain, and one that is far enough from its neighbours to cast such a perfect triangular shadow. I may have taken a photo when I first saw this shadow all those years ago but if I did, it’s hidden away in a box of prints.

Fast forward another 22 years to my January 2013 trip to Mauna Kea. We finished the overnight observing shift and headed up to the summit ridge to catch the sunrise. The mountain shadow spread before us like a giant version of one of the Egyptian pyramids, an absolutely stunning sight. The shiny enclosure for the Subaru Telescope adds an extra touch, reflecting the colours of the sky. All my time on Mauna Kea has been as a visiting astronomer; I’d like to go back as a tourist and take my time to watch the sunset and sunrise from the highest point in the Pacific.

Watching creation

Day 4 of my Hawaii week and a throwback-Thursday photo from 2004 and my first look at a real live lava flow. I spent a couple of hours just watching the lava pour into the sea, the waves crashing into the new land and occasionally causing small explosions as the water instantly turned to steam on contact with the lava. A nice way to spend a Sunday 🙂 🌋

This was my second weekend of a two-week stint in Hawaii getting to know a bit about my new job working as a scientific programmer for the SCUBA-2 project. I’d been out to watch the lava the previous weekend but I didn’t see much in the fresh lava, just lots of steam so I was really happy to see it this time round.

It was mesmerizing. I found myself a comfy-ish spot on the old lava (right next to the barrier rope) and simply sat and watched, taking pictures now and again, and always hoping for more lava to break out. Eventually convinced that I wasn’t going to get anything better (after all, I had just a little Canon A80 compact camera) I wandered back along the trail to the parking before heading back to my hotel.

The White Mountain

I’ve decided this week deserves some photos from Hawaii 🙂 For Mountain Monday I’m starting with a view of Maunakea, its summit dotted with white telescope domes, as seen from the hike up to Mauna Loa.

I didn’t post much on Instagram last week, mostly because I hadn’t taken much recently that I thought was any good. But I had this idea late yesterday to post a week’s worth of photos from various trips to Hawaii as a way to fill in the current gap in my photographic output. I have quite a few photos from the land of aloha taken over the years, so I imagine that this won’t be the last time I have a Hawaii feature week. And it gave me the idea to feature different places I’ve explored too.

Back to the photo. Maria and I had wanted to hike up to the summit of Mauna Loa for years, and we finally got around to tackling it in August 2014. This is the view across the broken lava fields towards its bigger sister, Mauna Kea – the white mountain – which turns out to be the tallest mountain in the world as measured from the sea bed where it begins. The various observatory domes are gleaming white at the summit, and the colour changes from the lush green of the saddle into the yellows and browns of the ranchland before the vegetation runs out and the rusty colour of the cinder takes over. (Walking on Mauna Kea is how I imagine it feels to be on Mars.) It’s a view I’d been wanting to see for over two decades and it was a truly spectacular sight.

At some point in the years since I first visited Hawaii, Mauna Kea came to be referred to as Maunakea and so I’m never quite sure which way to spell it these days. I’m hedging my bets and using both 🙂

Tropical mountain glow

A different kind of mountain shot for mountain Monday which I guess is less about the mountain itself and more about the view. Mauna Kea has some of the clearest and darkest skies on Earth, which is why there are a dozen telescopes up there. I was thrilled to capture the guide laser from Subaru (which I couldn’t see with my eyes), the Milky Way, and some bonus green airglow too. The Andromeda galaxy is the fuzzy blob just right of centre.

This was going to be my last visit to Mauna Kea as a professional astronomer, and I knew I had to make the most of it photographically. On previous trips I’d always taken our smaller (i.e., crappier) camera. Having just spent 10 days on vacation elsewhere in Hawaii, I had one of our SLRs with me so I knew I stood a chance of getting a good night shot. I’d seen other photos that showed the lasers from the adaptive optics systems of the various telescopes including some fantastic time-lapse videos that made it looks like the observatories were shooting at extraterrestrial entities. (In reality they’re just shooting at the upper layers in the Earth’s atmosphere.)

While I was outside lying down on the road at 2 in the morning, I couldn’t see any sign of the laser and it was only with the long (30-sec) exposure that it showed up. I was really happy with that. When I processed the photo I was even happier to see the green airglow – I knew it couldn’t be the aurora as Mauna Kea is way too far south to ever see that. Coupled with the starry band of the Milky Way and the little fuzzy blob that is the Andromeda galaxy, this is possibly one of my most satisfying night photos. Sure, I wouldn’t say no to going back with an even better camera, but if I don’t get to do that then I feel I can be happy with this photo.