The Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) are an independent collection of astronomical research facilities located on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai'i.
General: Cost: Paid
General: Photo Opportunity
Cultural & Historical: Heiau / Sacred Site
The facilities are located in a 500-acre (2.0 km2) special land use zone known as the "Astronomy Precinct", which is located in the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. The Astronomy Precinct was established in 1967 and is located on land protected by the Historical Preservation Act for its significance to Hawaiian culture.
The location is ideal because of its dark skies, good astronomical seeing, low humidity and position above most of the water vapor in the atmosphere, clean air, good weather and almost equatorial location.
The Reserve was established in 1968, and is leased by the State of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The University of Hawai'i manages the site and leases land to several multi-national facilities which have invested more than $2 billion in science and technology.
The altitude and isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean makes Mauna Kea one of the best locations on earth for ground-based astronomy. It is an ideal location for submillimeter, infrared and optical observations. The seeing statistics show that Mauna Kea is the best site in terms of optical and infrared image quality—for example the CFHT site has a median seeing of 0.43 arcseconds.
Accommodations for research astronomers are located at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (often called Hale Pohaku), 7 miles (11 km) by unpaved steep road from the summit at 9,300 feet (2,800 m) above sea level.
An adjacent visitor information station is located at 9,200 feet (2,800 m). The summit of Mauna Kea is so high that tourists are advised to stop at the visitor station for at least 30 minutes to acclimate to atmospheric conditions before continuing to the summit, and scientists often stay at Hale Pohaku for 8 hours or more before spending a full night at observatories on the summit, with some telescopes requiring observers to spend one full night at Hale Pohaku before working at the summit.
Telescopes found at the summit of Mauna Kea are funded by government agencies of various nations. The University of Hawai'i itself directly administers two telescopes. In total, there are 12 telescopes at or around the summit of Mauna Kea. It will also be the site of the Thirty Meter Telescope and is a proposed site for Pan-STARRS.
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