Across the entire island chain, 23 observatories are packed into the small region. The reason is that the islands are an incredible location for collecting data and observing the starry skies. However, all bias aside, the Big Island of Hawaii is considered the best of all the islands for stargazing and astronomy!
Of those 23 observatories, 14 are on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea with an elevation of 13,796 feet houses 12 of the 14 Big Island observatories. The remaining two are on Mauna Loa which has an elevation of 13,678 feet.
Mauna Kea Observatory
Besides the high elevation, there are many reasons Mauna Kea is a hotspot for astronomers. The exceptionally clean air, low humidity, and position above most atmospheric water vapor combine to create incredible conditions. The telescopes of the Mauna Kea Observatory are some of the best in the world and can teach us about natural, cultural, and scientific marvels.
Stargazing Programs and Tours
The Mauna Kea stargazing program is put on by the University of Hawai’i. This program is offered at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station and is held multiple times a week beginning at 6 pm.
However, due to COVID restrictions, the program is not being offered but keep an eye on the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station website to see when and what events and tours are being offered.
As you can probably expect, such an incredible location is and was revered by native Hawaiians. Mauna Kea’s summit is a site of deep spiritual importance. Knowing this, the Mauna Kea Observatories launched the Kama‘āina Observatory Experience. This experience is an effort to increase the appreciation for the sacred nature of Mauna Kea. It is conducted monthly with a spiritual guide and practitioner who teaches about the rich history of the site and its personal significance.
While the Summit is incredible, there are a ton of locations and options besides the summit to enjoy the incredible skies of the Big Island of Hawaii. There are many tours that offer everything from photography to guided camping on the slopes of Mauna Kea. It is a great way to get a local’s knowledge of the skies and the mountain as well as get some great photos to remember the experience.
Epic Tours offers some of the best stargazing and astrophotography tours on the Big Island. You can reserve a place on their website.
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i
A second astronomy center on the Big Island is the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i. ‘Imiloa is unique because it merges the Polynesian navigation practices and knowledge with today’s astronomy and scientific developments.
The large facility is in the University of Hawaii’s Science and Technology Park, above the University of Hawaii Hilo campus. There are several programs available and the educational displays in the planetarium are remarkable. One of the most popular exhibits covers the Polynesian navigation techniques known as Nā ʻOhana Hōkū ʻEhā or The Four Star Families.
Big Island Astronomy Resource Guide
If you would like to see a complete resource guide to learn about astronomy on the Big Island the Institute for Astronomy publishes a list on their site. You’ll have no problem finding public events, shows, or observatory hours at the link below.