23-30 aug 2004

photos by jwz

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We start the drive up to the Mauna Kea observatories. The visitors' center is at 8,000 feet elevation, and you have to stop there for at least an hour to get acclimated before proceeding up the mountain. You meet the tour guide, and convoy up to the observatory in your own 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The road is scary, and the telescopes are at almost 14,000 feet, which is above half the atmosphere: there's only 60% oxygen, and it can fuck you up bad. I become dizzy almost immediately, and after an hour, my fingers are tingling and going numb. You have to remember to breathe hard, because your body's instincts about how much air it needs are miscalibrated. (19° 49' N 155° 28' W +13,907')

This is the backside of the Keck I mirror. The mirrors are made of hexagonal segments that deform under computer control to compensate for atmospheric interference. Keck I and Keck II are identical, and can work in tandem. We also get to go inside of the University of Hawaii's 88" telescope, but the others are off limits for "national security reasons."

We learn much about the many fine telescopes. I retain little of it, because my brain is strangled by lack of sweet, sweet oxygen.

Pictured below: Subaru (the square-ish one just down the hill from Keck); Gemini (the chrome dome) and CFHT (to its left); UH 0.6m (outside and inside); the Submillimeter Array (the set of exposed dishes) and CSO (the faceted open dome.)

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