Aerial Tour of the Mauna Kea Observatories - 1995
We invite you to come on our 1995 aerial tour of the Mauna Kea
Observatories. We circle around the summit, then come in close for a
look at some of the major telescopes.
New aerial photographs of the Mauna
Kea Observatories were obtained in February 1998. The most
evident change between 1995 and 1998 is the construction of the Gemini
northern 8-meter telescope dome. The dome of one of the northern
UH 0.6-meter telescopes is visible in the 1995 photographs on the site
of the Gemini telescope. Other changes between 1995 and 1998 include
completion of the Subaru telescope enclosure, construction of the
antenna assembly building for the submillimeter array, and
installation of antenna pads for the submillimeter array.
Hints for viewing these
We start south of the summit. All the optical/IR telescopes plus the
two submillimeter telescopes can be seen; the road up to the summit
ridge is also visible. Haleakala, on the Island of Maui, appears
in the distance at the top left.
We now are looking at the observatory complex from the east. All
telescopes in the summit area can be seen. Mauna Kea's true summit is
in the left foreground; the short (but exhausting) trail from the
University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter telescope to the true summit is
visible. The site for the Submillimeter Array is indicated by the red "S".
As we continue our circuit, we pass to the north of the summit.
Since the Sun is in the southern half of the sky in winter in Hawaii,
the northern facing slopes of Mauna Kea are heated less, so
snow lasts much longer. Compare the amount of snow visible from the
north with the view from the south.
Lake Waiau lies to the southwest of the summit, at an altitude of
13,020 feet. It has an area of about 40 acres. Although referred to
as "bottomless" in legends, it reaches a maximum depth of only about 10
feet, after which it overflows into Pohakuloa Gulch when the snow
melts in spring. The almost perfectly formed cinder cone in the
foreground is Pu`u Hau Kea.
Returning to the summit region, we see the Canada-France-Hawaii
Telescope in the foreground, and behind it, the NASA Infrared
Telescope Facility, the W.M. Keck Observatory (Keck II has its dome partly
open), and the Subaru telescope under construction behind.
We come in close for a look at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility
(IRTF). Its dome has a new reflective coating to help control the
temperature inside and thereby optimize observing conditions.
Traveling further around, we see the two Keck
domes and the Subaru telescope under construction in the foreground,
and the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (silver spherical dome) and
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope behind, in submillimeter valley. In the
distance, the snow capped peak of Mauna Loa can be seen. The
partially open dome belongs to the Keck II telescope.
The Subaru Telescope is being constructed to the west of the Keck I
Telescope. It will be housed in a cylindrical
structure which will rotate with the telescope.
Flying down to submillimeter valley, we see Mauna Kea's two
submillimeter telescopes. In the center of the photograph is the
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT). To the right is the Caltech
Submillimeter Observatory (CSO). The JCMT operates during the day.
We hope our flight will not disturb their observations.
We look down upon the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. A GoreTex (TM)
windscreen blocks our view of the telescope;
the astronomers have the dome open, and are still
observing. This telescope operates at submillimeter wavelengths, and
the screen is transparent to radiation at these wavelengths; it
protects the telescope from heat, moisture, dust and wind. Submillimeter
telescopes can be used during the daytime.
Returning to the main summit ridge, we see the United Kingdom
Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in the foreground, and the University of
Hawaii's 2.2-meter telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
The University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter
telescope was the first large telescope on Mauna Kea. It was
completed in 1970. The strange protrusion from the dome houses a
crane which is used to hoist the aluminizing chamber into the dome for
aluminizing the primary mirror of the telescope. Two people and two
vehicles can be seen, which helps to show the scale.
The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope lies at the northern end of the
summit ridge. The small dome at the left housed a 0.6-meter
telescope. This small telescope was removed in September 1994, and
the dome was removed in early 1995, to make way for the Gemini North telescope which will be
constructed on this site.
Finally, we visit the Keck Telescopes. On the left is the Keck I
dome, and on the right is the newly painted Keck II dome.
About these photos
- These photographs were taken from a helicopter in late February 1995
by Richard Wainscoat.
- The photographs were taken from altitudes between 13,600 to 14,500 ft.
- It takes about 12 minutes to fly from Waimea to the summit by
helicopter, and about 8 minutes to fly back. It takes about 2 hours by car.
- Most helicopters cannot land on the summit of Mauna Kea - it is
too high. Although some helicopters may be able to land safely, they
may be unable to lift off again.
- You cannot visit Mauna Kea in a tour helicopter - it is
too high and too dangerous, and it interferes with the observing.
- It was very cold!
- These photographs are Copyright 1995 by Richard Wainscoat,
Institute for Astronomy, All Rights Reserved. We hope that you have
enjoyed looking at these photographs, but please note that further use
of them is not permitted without written permission.
Last updated September 28, 1995