Take a front-row seat to wonder with Sean Goebel’s Mauna Kea Heavens time-lapse. Full screen, high-def, speakers up … you know the drill.
Atop the Big Island of Hawaii, a one million-year-old volcano towers silently above a tropical paradise. The native people named it Mauna Kea, after the snow-white cap at its peak. This living mountain extends over 33,000 feet from the base of the seafloor (twice the height of Everest) and, by my definition at least, the highest mountain on Earth.
Its 13,808 foot height above sea level mean that it sits above 40% of Earth’s atmosphere and water vapor. Combined with Hawaii’s low light pollution and near-equatorial location, this make Mauna Kea an idea place to observe the heavens free from terrestrial interference.
Over the past fifty years, thirteen telescopes have been erected on the site, with a fourteenth (the world’s largest) coming in the next few years. It’s a pretty sight, eh?
Sean Goebel, the artist behind this time-lapse, is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii with the enviable task of working at Mauna Kea, one of Earth’s prime perches from which to observe the universe. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Mauna Kea houses telescopes that see across the electromagnetic spectrum, from optical to radio. Its smallest mirrors are the size of the Hubble Space Telescope!
What’s up with the lasers? They are not part of a Pink Floyd light show, sadly. Rather, they are part of an advanced adaptive optics system. The gases and water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere cause light to distort as it travels to Earth (which is why stars twinkle). The lasers, up to a foot wide and five thousand times more powerful than a handheld laser pointer, shine through the atmosphere and their distortion is analyzed by computers on the ground. The telescope mirrors are adjusted several times per second in order to correct for the atmospheric blur. This, combined with their size, makes Mauna Kea’s largest telescopes some of the most sensitive ever constructed.
I agree with Sean: “Every telescope should have a laser,” whether or not they are useful. But even that brilliant light show has nothing on the cosmos itself. Thank you, Sean, for capturing it so wonderfully.
Visit the Mauna Kea Observatory website to learn more about the science behind this beautiful array of eyes on the sky. Oh, and enjoy the show :)