Far away from the sand and the surf, up on the summit of Mauna Kea, the universe awaits. Stargazers of all ages will delight in the sights that are found on top of Hawaii's tallest mountain. The conditions are absolutely perfect, and the opportunity unique. Here's why you'll want to spend at least one night outside of your Hawaii vacation rental, staring at the stars:
Mauna Kea is not only the tallest mountain in Hawaii, it's actually the tallest sea mountain in the world. This means there are no other islands that can offer the same caliber of astronomical experience as this one. Height is an important factor when determining how well you'll see the stars – at higher elevation the air is thinner, so the night sky is brighter and more clear.
In addition, Mauna Kea is high enough above sea level that the summit is usually above the clouds. This means that there are rarely weather conditions that will prevent visitors from getting an incredible view of the sky above.
The mountain has another distinct advantage over most places for stargazing – there is nearly no light pollution on top of Mauna Kea. Light pollution is when sources of light on the ground like street lamps and headlights make an area brighter at night than it would otherwise be. This makes it harder for stars, planets and other astronomical bodies to stand out against the darkness.
Because Mauna Kea is so high up and far away from any source of unnatural light, this isn't a problem. There's true darkness – the kind that makes it possible to watch the stars glitter above.
There are a number of ways you can experience the universe atop Mauna Kea. Although you can drive to the summit yourself, it's a tricky journey. Unless you're using a car designed for difficult terrain, you might be putting yourself in danger by going it alone.
The safer choice is checking out one of the many stargazing tours that go up the mountain. These tours are led by experienced drivers who know the roads well and will be able to handle the trip without much trouble. The other advantage of these tours is that you'll have someone along who can help you spot different planets and constellations. Although books and websites may be able to guide you toward what you're looking for, it's always better to have an expert on hand.
Sea level stargazing
Although you're likely to get the very best views from the mountaintop, there's nothing stopping you from stargazing at ground level. Even though there is more light pollution in the heavily populated parts of the island, the level of light is still far lower than you'd get in a major city on the mainland.
You can even check out the night sky in the middle of the day at the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Here you can learn all about Hawaii's relationship with the universe, and view an IMAX-style show that teaches you about some of the astronomical views that can be seen from the island.