All my life I have loved looking at the stars, to me it is the endless possibility and expansion of space that captures my imagination. I remember being in primary school and looking at space books, my favourite shot was of the constellation Pleiades.
This constellation, its shape and colours, visible from earth even in the bright cites and only created from our position in the universe never ceases to amaze me. As you may know, I try and see any great meteor showers and when ever I get out of the city, I make the effort to look up and marvel at the sky on a clear night.
The best place I have seen the stars is probably Hawaii, although I did go to one of the greatest places to see the stars at Bryce Canyon in Utah but was unfortunately impacted by weather.
Kerrie & I were on the Big Island staying at Hilo. I had read that on the top of Mauna Kea at 13,800 ft there was free stargazing with telescopes provided by the Visitor Centre. The top of these mountains in Hawaii are home to some of the most powerful land based telescopes. The clear air, height above the clouds and position give us a great chance to look deep into the universe. Unfortunately, you can’t get to this telescopes without a 4wd, and entry is not permitted to the general public I believe.
One night before sunset, a storm came in and we decided to make our way to Mauna Kea. We drove our red delicious Jeep through the clouds, making our way up another dormant volcano on the beautiful Hawaiian islands. Arriving at the Visitors Centre, we watched some informative videos about the observatories and then made our way up a nice little walk to watch the sunset.
The clouds lingered below our feet, we were on top of the world. The sun, slowly started to dip, its light bent across the atmosphere, producing colours across the sky.
We returned to the visitors centre and they had started to prepare some telescopes for free viewing.
As the sun disappeared, the suns from other solar systems within our galaxy started to slowly appear. The air was fresh, the stars light that took so long to reach us started to brighten and we started to see our atmosphere, that blue by day turned transparent at night and reveal the universe to us.
Now, we saw Saturn once in Brisbane at a free telescope stall at the Greek Festival but when we saw Saturn from this height, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could see the rings and the moons. It was so clear and just hung in the viewfinder like a tiny little Christmas ornament.
The employees of the Visitor centre used a laser pointer to show us various planets, galaxies and double stars above our heads, the expanse of the universe was from horizon to horizon, we had a full 360 degree view of the night sky. Unfortunately, our eyes were constantly not able to adapt to the darkness, as people were coming and going and the headlights of cars would reset our eyes. Usually its best to be in darkness for 30 mins for your eyes to fully adjust.
It was an amazing moment though, I felt like I could almost touch these burning balls of gas and planets above us. But I don’t think this will be my greatest view of the night sky. I plan to one day visit the Northern Territory to fully witness from what I hear is some amazing views of the night sky.
My love of stargazing continues to this day, and I have also been lucky enough to view a few comets with the last one visible to the naked eye being the great comet of 2007, Comet McNaught. I still have video footage of this comet, captured from our backyard right after sunset.
I wished I had studied the stars more and made it a career. Its important that what ever you do, you are passionate about it and the unknown questions of the universe continue to haunt me as they do everyone else.
As a keen stargazer, I hope one of the last things I do see before leaving this precious earth is Halley’s comet.
This comet is next due on the 28th of July 2061.
I will be 80 years old.