Hilo an ideal point of departure for stargazing in Hawai’i

2 08 2009

Hawai’i Nui means Great Hawai’i. The Hawaiian Islands are a great place to visit, from the Garden Island of Kaua’i to the Big Island of Hawai’i. This is the third post in a series of opinion pieces on the question, “What makes Hilo worth a special trip?”

Reason #3. The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo is the place to understand the Hawaiian perspective on star-gazing.

There is nothing more spectacular than to lie on a remote Big Island beach at night. Get away from town, or from lights of a big resort, and you will be stunned by the beauty of the night sky. The stars, more than you’ve ever seen anywhere else, go right down to the horizon on all sides. Outside, at night, hearing the ocean whisper or roar, looking up at the distant stars, you feel very small, almost like you yourself are a piece of stardust. It is an amazing sensation.

On the Big Island of Hawai'i, you will be in awe of the night sky

On the Big Island of Hawai’i, you will be in awe of the night sky

Looking up at the night sky on the Big Island of Hawai’i, it’s easy to imagine how important the stars were to the Ancient Hawaiians.

Polynesian navigators discovered and settled the Hawaiian Islands after journies of exploration over thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, guided primarily by the stars. To get a sense of how amazing this is, I quote from the Polynesian Voyaging Society website:

“The Polynesian migration to Hawai’i was part of one of the most remarkable achievements of humanity: the discovery and settlement of the remote, widely scattered islands of the central Pacific. The migration began before the birth of Christ. While Europeans were sailing close to the coastlines of continents before developing navigational instruments that would allow them to venture onto the open ocean, voyagers from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa began to settle islands in an ocean area of over 10 million square miles. The settlement took a thousand years to complete and involved finding and fixing in mind the position of islands, sometimes less than a mile in diameter on which the highest landmark was a coconut tree. By the time European explorers entered the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century almost all the habitable islands had been settled for hundreds of years.”

On clear nights, the navigator took his bearings from the stars. During the day and on cloudy nights, the navigator relied on dead recokoning, guesstimating from the wind direction, the nature of the seas, and any clues from birds or flotsam. It is indeed amazing that these methods were used to repeatedly travel between tiny dots of islands spread out in a sea as large as the surface of the moon.

“How was this great feat of navigation possible?”

You can find out at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i right here in Hilo. ‘Imiloa, which means “exploring new knowledge,” reflects both the Hawaiian voyages of discovery and the explorations of astronomy.

Located on a nine-acre campus above the University of Hawaii-Hilo, with spectacular views of Hilo Bay, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center (formerly called Maunakea Astronomy Education Center) provides a unique experience for visitors seeking to explore the connections between Hawaiian cultural traditions and the science of astronomy. Check out this video on the ‘Imiloa website for an introduction to the facility.

‘Imiloa has a state-of-the-art planetarium with 3-D viewing capabilities and a variety of fascinating programs. You can see the views from the telescopes atop Mauna Kea right at the planetarium. Between the planetarium and all the other exhibits, star-gazing fans could easily spend most of a day in Hilo at ‘Imiloa alone.

Enjoy your visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i.  Hope you make it to the fairest little city on the Pacific Ocean.






One response

11 08 2009
Science proves the legends are true: Hawai’i navigators pioneered trade routes across the Pacific « ALOHA IBU

[…] Star-gazing in Hawai’i – encouraging visitors to see Hilo’s Imiloa Center to learn about modern astronomy and ancient way-finding […]

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