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.

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View from the south gif96K jpeg33K
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.

View from the east gif95K jpeg40K
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".

View from the north gif104K jpeg48K
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 gif91K jpeg38K
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.

Over the CFHT gif116K jpeg56K
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.

NASA Infrared Telescope Facility gif94K jpeg38K
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.

Keck Telescopes and Subaru gif100K jpeg48K
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.

Subaru Telescope gif107K jpeg49K
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.

Submillimeter Telescopes gif100K jpeg46K
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.
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope gif97K jpeg43K
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.

United Kingdom Infrared Telescope gif98K jpeg40K
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 behind.

University of Hawaii 2.2-meter telescope gif98K jpeg42K
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.

Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope gif97K jpeg36K
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.
Keck Telescopes gif96K jpeg40K
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

Last updated September 28, 1995

Richard Wainscoat