ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Mauna Kea - Window to the Universe

Updated on June 14, 2019
ftank profile image

Ftank owns a home on the Big Island of Hawaii and loves exploring the sights of the islands.

Mauna Kea - Highest Peak in the Islands

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The majestic mountain peak of Mauna Kea. Looking back at the Visitor Center below.The road up the mountain is both dirt and paved. Nearing the observatory area.At the mountain summit.
The majestic mountain peak of Mauna Kea.
The majestic mountain peak of Mauna Kea.
Looking back at the Visitor Center below.
Looking back at the Visitor Center below.
The road up the mountain is both dirt and paved.
The road up the mountain is both dirt and paved.
Nearing the observatory area.
Nearing the observatory area.
At the mountain summit.
At the mountain summit.

Exploring the Mountain Peak

Facts About Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is the tallest peak in the Hawaiian Island chain. Mauna Kea towers over the island at 13,803 feet above the ocean floor. The mountain, considered sacred to the Hawaiian people, rises from the sea floor over 33,000 feet. When measured from the sea floor, this makes Mauna Kea one of the largest volcanos in the world. Mauna Kea has a mass of 7,850 cubic miles in volume with much of the mountain mass lying on the eastern portion of the island. Mauna Kea looms 125 feet taller than Mauna Loa, a sister volcano located on the southern part of the island. Snow can often be seen atop the peak of Mauna Kea during much of the winter months of the year. Lake Waiau, lying within the Puʻu Waiau cinder cone, is the highest alpine lake located at an altitude of 13,022 ft.

Mauna Kea Observatories

Due to optimum star-gazing conditions at this altitude, Mauna Kea, is home to a number of observatories. These observatories contain some of the most powerful telescopes in the world. The first telescope to be placed on top of Mauna Kea was build by the University of Hawaii and is used for student training. Another observatory is the William Keck Observatory which houses the world's largest and most powerful optical-infrared telescope with a 33 foot wide viewing surface. At the peak, the air is thin and clear with little light and dust pollution creating an ideal environment for the astronomical community.

Mauna Kea is home to at least two dozen of the world's telescopes including: the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, the Gemini Northern 8m Telescope and the Subaru Telescope which cost over $300 million and has the largest optical mirror in the world. The observatories are shared, maintained and overseen by many nations. Scientists can wait for months to book some time working on these powerful, sky-viewing telescopes.

Visiting the Observatories and the Mauna Kea Summit

While there are many telescopes on the top of Mauna Kea, there are only two that allow visitors to tour their facilities. One is the University of Hawaii observatory and the other is the Wm Keck Observatory. Tours of the University of Hawaii's 2.2m telescope are given Mon-Thu from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and provides free admission. The Keck telescope has a Visitor's Center which is open on Mon-Fri from 10 am to 4 pm, and also provides free admission. The Keck observatory has a 12-minute video, a display and a viewing area inside the Keck I dome.

The drive from Saddle Road is just a little over 14 1/2 miles to the summit. Shortly after beginning the drive up the mountain, there is the Onizuka Visitor Center where you can stop and learn about the work going on at the mountain top observatory on Mauna Kea. After the Visitor Center, the first 5 miles of the road is gravel, steep, narrow and rough and takes around thirty minutes to get to the top. The last 3 miles are paved to reduce dust and protect the delicate lenses of the telescopes. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended but people do make the drive in regular passenger cars on a regular basis. If you have a rental vehicle, be sure to check your rental agreement since some vehicle rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken up the Mauna Kea Summit road.There are also many tour operators that visitors can use if they do not want to make the drive on their own.

While the views from the top of the summit are magnificent, it is not for everyone. Weather can be unpredictable with rain, wind, fog, hail, or even snow depending on the month of the visit. People with respiratory or cardiopulmonary problems, children under 16, pregnant women, or people who are obese or physically limited might find breathing difficult since oxygen levels are reduced by 40% on the summit. Altitude sickness with symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, weakness, reduced muscle control, heart palpitations, nausea, dehydration and impaired reasoning can affect anyone. If you experience altitude sickness, the best solution is to descend as rapidly as possible to a lower altitude. People who have participated in scuba diving within the last 24 hours also should not attempt to go to the top of the summit either.

Be sure to take warm clothing and sturdy shoes for walking around on the rough surface at the summit. Stop at the Visitor Center and check the weather conditions with the Rangers before you go up the Summit road. During winter months, there is often snow, high wind or impassable conditions along the road to the top. On a clear and sunny day, the view from the top is fabulous and well worth the drive to the summit.

Altitude Sickness

Have you ever experienced altitude sickness?

See results

© 2009 ftank


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)