Big Island Stargazing

Carole Terwilliger Meyers Long famous for superb stargazing, the Big Island’s atmospheric clarity is said to be the planet’s best. Many visitors book a four-wheel-drive tour from Hilo (or Kona) to Mauna Kea’s 13,600-foot summit, where they can view the amazing line-up of the world’s largest telescopes, en

By: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Long famous for superb stargazing, the Big Island’s atmospheric clarity is said to be the planet’s best. Many visitors book a four-wheel-drive tour from Hilo (or Kona) to Mauna Kea’s 13,600-foot summit, where they can view the amazing line-up of the world’s largest telescopes, enjoy a spectacular sunset and see countless stars. So it seems fitting that the new Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii was placed on this island.

Opened in February of 2006, the center is the newest and largest of Hawaii’s three planetariums. Its name derives from the Hawaiian word for “explorer” or “seeker of profound truth.” Located above the University of Hawaii-Hilo and with spectacular views of Hilo Bay, its dramatic titanium-clad exterior features three metallic cones piercing the exterior roof line. They are meant as an abstraction of three of the island’s volcanoes Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai.

During my visit to Imiloa, I relaxed deep into my seat as I watched the planetarium’s inaugural show, “Maunakea: Between Earth and Sky,” shown on its state-of-the-art digital theater system. This 22-minute talk-story film tells the story of the Big Island’s birth. I learned that the observatories on Hawaii’s loftiest sacred summit are controversial and that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the world’s beaches, followed by a dizzying “trip” into a black hole and along the surface of a Moebius strip.

After the planetarium show, we entered the exhibit hall through a simulated koa wood forest. There, in both English and Hawaiian, nearly 100 intriguing educational displays and hands-on exhibits explain the origins of the universe and encourage exploration of space. My favorites included a reproduction of Mauna Kea showing the location of sacred Lake Waiau, where some locals still go after their baby’s birth to deposit the umbilical cord and acknowledge their origin.

CONTACT

Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
600 Imiloa Pl.
Hilo, HI 96720
808-969-9700
www.imiloahawaii.org

Hours: Tues.-Sun. from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: $14.50 per adult, $7.50 per child ages 4-12, free for kids under 4.
Commission: 10 percent

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