Imiloa: Astronomy Center of Hawai
In June, Cathy and I visited the brand-new Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii, near the University of Hawaii at Hilo, a short drive from downtown. (http:// www.imiloahawaii.org/)
The facility is an interpretive center both for modern astronomy (with a focus on work done at the Mauna Kea observatories on the Island) and ancient Hawaiian cultural traditions.
The Center structure has the shape of three connected cones. These represent the three largest volcanoes on the Big Island: Mauna Loa, Hualalai, and Mauna Kea. The first is active, with eruptions every couple of decades, the second last erupted in 1801, and Mauna Kea is classed as dormant. If you are wondering why the active volcano Kilauea is not represented, it has not yet formed a tall cone. For information on the volcanoes of Hawaii, see http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/
Inside the front door, and directly below the skylight of the middle cone, is a wonderful mosaic that depicts a double-hulled sailing canoe approaching the Big Island. I think the smoke off the volcano represents Pele as I can see her profile there. Also note some stars in the upper right, which is a somewhat stylized constellation Scorpius, known by the ancient Hawaiians as Maui’s Fishhook. Maui was sort of an Hawaiian Hercules. The Center actually would be more properly named the Cultural and Astronomy Center, as the displays, interactive screens, and videos focus even more on culture than they do on astronomy.
The building contains a very nice planetarium, a main exhibit hall, a special-events hall, learning center, café, and gift shop.
One should allow a couple of hours to go through the exhibit hall. There is a lot to see and absorb, and a variety of types of displays from mechanical to digital. A planetarium show is included in the cost of admission, and we interrupted our selfguided tour to attend. It was a multi-media presentation on Mauna Kea, with an emphasis on the ancient
Hawaiian origins chant. Following the show, we visited with the operator, and she gave us a backstage tour of the stacks of computer equipment that run their multiple projectors. They have ordered a new multi-million dollar digital projector, which they should have in place by the time you read this.
The Center is forming a large volunteer group to serve as docents. It didn’t take very long for some of them to notice the movement of the sun in relation to the mosaic. We chatted with one volunteer who had been marking the position of the sun at solar noon with tape on the tile floor. Since the mosaic is directly underneath the skylight, and since Hawaii is in the tropics, there are two moments every year when the circle of the sun matches the circle of the mosaic.
Hilo is on the wet side of the Big Island, and has a reputation for rain, but the showers are usually short and of course it is always warm. Other must-see sights in the Hilo area are the Lyman House and Museum and the Pacific Tsunami Museum. The benefits of the rains are the ability to enjoy Rainbow Falls, the Nani Mau Gardens and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Also, do try the Hilo Homemade Ice Cream, the best commercial ice cream we have ever tasted.
‘Imiloa is open every day except Mondays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with planetarium shows at 11, 1, and 2:30.