Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jupiter setting behind Mauna Kea, 11 000 feet alt.

Great trip up to the top of Mauna Kea, or at least to the Observatory visitors center.... altitude still affecting some of our crew in a real way.  The Observatory is above the clouds on the top of the dormant volcano, and across the valley you can see Mauna Loa, almost as high, and then hiding beyond it is where the active volcano is busy churning out lava and gases.  Mauna Kea is the worlds largest mountain, measured from its base on the sea floor to its snow-capped summit over 13,000 feet above sea level.  It has evidence of melted glaciers left from the Ice Age, and has not erupted in over 4500 years, so we felt safe climbing up to the tip of a cinder cone to watch a fabulous sunset over Hawaii.

The International Observatory has telescopes set up for the public, so we were able to see the sun through one (a big orange glow, surprise) before the hike.  It was several degrees cooler up there than you would expect in Hawaii, but we planned ahead with pants and sweaters.  The girls had cold toes, as they are certainly out of the habit of wearing socks, but overall we were warm enough for a couple hours of stargazing.    We saw Jupiter, with its 4 moons, setting in the west after about an hour of darkness, and we spotted the Hubble telescope in orbit above us.  The Orion nebula was also a hit, as was the powerful laser the star guide used to point out the constellations in the sky... the boys are still wishing they would have purchased those in Thailand...only 200 baht!  So the science lessons with the accompanying hot chocolate were a hit, and I can't help but feel like our Greatest Fieldtrip Ever has been a success. We have all learned an incredible amount on this journey, in a first-hand experience that school books could never match.  Home schooling, where the world has been our "home".

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