Today I visited the summit of Mauna Kea courtesy of the Keck Observatory. It was the 2011 Keck Open House and I was fortunate enough to be invited by friend and Keck astronomer Julien Woillez. Julien is an interferometer scientist working on a project coordinating both Keck I and Keck II telescopes to create a virtual 85 millimeter telescope. Wow!
We met the scientists and staff at the Keck Observatory headquarters in Kamuela (Waimea, Big Island) at 8:00 AM. By 8:45 we arrived at the Keck Observatory campus at the 9,000 foot level of Mauna Kea. The day was bright with a warm and gentle breeze. Slightly light-headed from the elevation, we entered the private Keck Observatory common area building. The reception lobby was warm with high country architectural details, and brightened overhead by the national flags of participating astronomer nations. We were immediately drawn down into the neighboring cafeteria with it’s clusters of easy conversationalists, coffee and tea aromas, and beautiful views.
Up and to the left from the cafe, I found pool tables and dart boards in the recreation area, and next to that overstuffed chairs in the living room which was lined with books. A closer look at the titles made me chuckle: science fiction and fantasy pulp fiction and other light reading. Serious thoughts of dark matter, data crunching and expanding universe queries must give way!
Two young astronomy interns lay inert on the inviting soft sofas, sound asleep, shirts and khakis slightly soiled and scruffed. Exhausted from a long night shift, no doubt they sank into the deep cushions for an after work chat. In the warming morning light, with pleasant breakfast chatter and scents drifting in from the cafeteria, they never had a chance. Lights out.
The views drew me out onto the living room lanai. Grand Mauna Loa was beautiful in the clear morning light. Far below a broad tongue of clouds reached in from the east, covering the tropical Hamakua and North Hilo coastline. I heard the master of ceremonies pick up the mic in the cafe and clear his throat. Time to find a seat for the safety briefing. (To be continued) Video: