Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mauna Kea's parking lot

Please excuse the noise in this photo, it was taken after the sun had set and it was a longish exposure.

The summit of Mauna Kea is one very crowded place in the evening. Although the number of astronomical observatories at the summit of Mauna Kea has remained steady due to agreements reached in the past, the number of astronomers visiting the summit has declined quite noticeably in recent years. I suspect this is due to a number of factors, for instance some observatories offer remote observing, i.e., the astronomer is at sea-level or at least amongst civilisation elsewhere and controls observing via the internet (and ultimately, the phone). Other factors include the financial situation we're all aware of and instead of visiting the summit with a student and postdoc, a professor often now just sends a student and relies on the observatory staff to do the training and ensure that the data the inexperienced student collects are good.

That puts quite a load on the observatory staff although on the whole we're happy to do that, although sometimes I've had to bury my head in my hands when even simple astronomical concepts aren't understood. Airmass and seeing are good examples.

In the meantime, I can't help noticing that the number of tourists visiting the summit is increasing despite the downturn in the economy. This is probably a bad thing for the summit's environment, but a good thing for the local economy. In fact, I'm surprised by the number of tourists I see at the summit these days because tourism in Hawai`i is declining at a frightening rate. I'm not sure how to understand these conflicting observations.

Just as a final note, the tourist vans you see in the picture above are only about half of the tourist traffic on a typical evening. The others are on the the summit ridge. You can't see most of the vans in the picture below, they found a good hiding place!


Protege said...

I have one question for you Tom that I have been wanting to ask you since reading your last 3-4 posts:
Where you have your residence, is that considered to be a tropical part of Hawaii? And the summit that you picture so often here, which is covered in snow; is this where you work? Or work sometimes? If I am right so far, how long does it take you to drive from where you live to where you work and, in that case, is it correct to assume that you can experience winter and summer in one day?

Tom said...

Protege - going to bed right now, but I will answer your "one question" in a blog entry soon! The quick answer is yes, I can experience a tropical summer and an arctic winter in a day. This is a wonderful place!