Mauna Kea VIS

View Larger Map
Map and directions for the Mauna Kea VIS Site

Mauna Kea is simply one of the best places in the world to view the stars. Home to over a dozen of the world's largest telescopes the mountain is also open to amateur observers who wish to enjoy the skies at this astronomical paradise. What must be considered is that conditions at the summit may prohibit use by the amateur observer, the low oxygen conditions of the 14,000ft altitude seriously degrades visual acuity, the usual high winds and biting cold are also major issues. It is likely that a location below the summit may be a better choice for setting up a portable telescope.

The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station is open to amateur observers who wish to setup at a far more comfortable location at a less demanding 9,200ft (2800m) elevation. The site offers a paved parking lot, bathrooms and easy access by a paved road.

The VIS is open every evening until 10pm offering visitors to the mountain an information station as well as evening stargazing through the several telescopes in the small courtyard in front of the building. The scopes include an assortment of 14" and 16" scopes as well as several small dobsonians available for visitor use. This can get quite crowded during the early hours of the evening as many come up for the evening stargazing and the commercial tours come down after sunset viewing on the summit.

The VIS has some advantages and some disadvantages...

  • There will be a crowd of visitors from sunset to 10pm when the visitor center closes. In practice the VIS is quiet after 9pm as the cold drives all but the heartiest visitors away. Until closing there will be headlights and camera flashes and all of the rest that tourists bring along. If you like doing public work and inviting others to share the view this can be fun, otherwise consider one of the other nearby sites. After 10pm you will have the parking lot to yourself and be able to enjoy the dark skies of Mauna Kea until dawn.
  • You will have a paved and stable spot to setup your telescope
  • Power is available from a couple outdoor receptacles.
  • The VIS is on the south face of the mountain offering good view of southern sky objects. Mauna Loa does block the lowest sections of the southern sky raising the southern horizon a few degrees.
  • The VIS lights are red after dark, but still fairly bright, they must balance safety with night vision. These are turned off after closing.
  • The large parking lot light has a switch right on the pole, use it to setup or breakdown then turn it off.
  • The Mauna Kea Rangers will be around to provide a little more security. These great guys will not only welcome you to setup you gear, but can answer your questions and be around if there is any trouble. They are aware of dark adaptation and will usually keep their vehicle lights down for you. Say hello and invite them for a look through the scope.
  • In the case of the prevailing easterly winds being a problem it is possible to setup in the courtyard area where the building will block the worst of the winds.
  • Bathrooms! (need I say more?)

If a more private location away from the crowds and light of the VIS is desired you may want to consider the nearby Substation, or R-1 sites instead