Thursday, 12 December 2013

The VIEW from the top (Mauna Kea on Day 8)

OK. Where were we? Right! Little wee bus @ buns in the sun.
Said bus proceeds to drive us through bizarre terrain.

Then we get to the Mauna Kea visitor centre at 2800 m.  I'm still wearing shorts and it's getting noticeably cold if one wanders through the shadows.  EXCELLENT veggy lasagna is provided by the bus drivers. And look at the cutlery !   I also notice that I tend to get out of breath a little quicker when walking around.

For public stargazing at the visitor's centre

At this point I am still wearing shorts! What do these Taikonauts know that I don't?


Sunset is close 

All of the tours are here at the same time for the sunset and the subsequent star gazing

nice bus, so it's not as rough as it looks

Since all the clouds are below us, it will be a perfectly clear night
Moonscape above the clouds

showing no sign of getting greener

you gotta be kidding (road top right)

OH ...

Before we get out of the bus, the driver warns us not to run around taking pictures. "Anyone who faints gets to see the rest of the sunset from the bus."  And he's right. Walking is not as easy as it was at sea level or even at 2800 metres. The 30km/h wind does not help matters.  First my fingers gently communicate to me that they are cold. 10 Minutes later they are screaming and cursing at me ;-)  Now where did I put those gloves?  Brain really not getting enough oxygen ...

I might not be able to breathe, but at least my ears won't fall off !

Is that why I chose to come to a place where I can not breathe and can't feel my fingers ?

In the following picture there is a giant pyramid-shaped shadow being cast over the clouds.  That is the shadow of Mauna Kea.  

I was only trying to block the sun to reduce lens glare but it worked out OK. No idea who that is ;-)  But as you can see, the sunset won't be all that spectacular since there are overhead clouds. And it's these overhead clouds that create spectacular displays once the sun has set, as witnessed a few days ago.

 While everyone is busy taking pictures to the sunset on the LEFT, I dare to look over the edge and encounter this ;-)

Still pretty though ;-)
 But I find the views away from the sunset more appealing
At some point I stop caring about straight horizon lines in the pictures because it is just TOO BLOODY COLD (The fact that the sun is disappearing is not helpful to staying warm!)

Finally the bus leaves down the hill again (The bus has a heater ;-). Back at 2800 metres it almost feels balmy and I take deep breaths.  The company has its own two telescopes, so we do the star-gazing at a spot away from the crowds, car-traffic, noise, and light-pollution of the visitor's centre. On two 11" telescopes we get to look at Venus (a nice crescent), the double cluster in Perseus, a star-forming region (nebulous) very close to Orion's belt, Andromeda, the Moon, and Jupiter (3 of 4 Galilean moons are visible as are the storm belts !). The show is brilliantly narrated by the driver of the other bus (Trust me, in a previous life as a graduate student I gave those telescope & star gazing tours and I know how hard it is to be entertaining and I've witnessed how easy it is to fail in that endeavor. 
At 10:10 we're back in Kona.

At ~ $200 the tour is far from cheap, but those 8 hours passed surprisingly FAST, those 4x4 buses are COMFY, the vistas were SPECTACULAR, the provided jackets & gloves are nice (one just has to wear them ;-), the guides are COMPETENT, and the feeling in my fingertips has returned, so: NO REGRETS ! (The name of the company is written on the side of the bus in the pictures, if anyone is interested ;-)

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