Not the Milky Way, but the Mauna Kea Visitors Information Center. So, if you are planning a trip up, definitely dress warmly. In the summer the nighttime temperatures get down to 40 and sometimes lower. You are packed and ready for spending time in temperatures in the 80′s, it’ll be hard to be dressed warmly and you’ll notice it if you go up in shorts or even just a jacket. So we have a suggestion: Goodwill or Sally’s thrift store (next to the farmer’s market in Hilo). Go there and buy a sweatshirt and knit cap, perhaps some long sweat pants. We did this Saturday before our trip to the visitor center, 4 sweatshirts, 4 caps, 2 sweat pants set us back 24 dollars and it made a whole world of difference in our enjoyment of the stars. After using them you can either re-donate them back to Goodwill or Sally’s, take them with you if you have space in your luggage, or if you are staying at our place, you can leave them there. The next guests might appreciate it. Speaking of which, the ones we bought Saturday are there for your use. There are sizes ranging from a 4-year-old to a tall 9-year-old, to a large male adult. Try them before going off to buy some more.
Check out a previous post on a suggested itinerary to the stars, and here are some tips and things to remember:
* The visitors center is 9,400 ft up as you are driving up to the observatories. It’s worth a visit alone without seeing the observatories.
* There are always telescopes at the visitors center for viewing every night, but Saturdays have special programs that might be of interest. The first saturday of every month has a special lecture “The Universe tonight.”
* There is coffee and hot chocolate there to keep you warm, and a few snack items and souvenirs. Don’t expect to buy warms clothes there though, they have them, but they ain’t cheap.
*If you don’t want to spend the $100-200/person for one of the tours from a permitted commercial company (which can be great, btw), and you have or can rent a four-wheel drive, you might want to check out the visitor center’s free escorted tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm. They escort you up to the observatories from the visitors center and give a tour once there.
* Remember, children under 16, pregnant women and anyone with respiratory problems are not permitted up to the observatories. They can go to the visitor’s center at 9,400, but the observatories at 14,000+ can wreak havoc with your lungs. The sudden rise from sea level to 14,000 is a lot to handle.
* If you can make it at a new moon like this last Saturday, not only is the viewing absolutely amazing, but there are many more amateur and professional telescopes set up at the visitor’s center.
We had a great time. The milky way was amazing to see at this altitude and unobstructed views (a couple of parents told their kid that they were sorry there were so many clouds, when the women next to them remarked… those aren’t clouds, that’s the milky way, they were astonished). Also, through the telescopes we saw Saturn, nebula and twin stars.