A Far-Sighted Solution
Over the past 30 years, observatories have been built on many of the cinder cones at Mauna Kea’s summit. And although a Hawaiian ceremonial structure stands on the very highest peak, science and religion have not always dwelled there in harmony. But the aloha spirit has prevailed since
2005 with the opening of ‘Imiloa, the Astronomy Center of Hawaii, in Hilo.
Conceived and built not as a museum but as an “interpretive center,” its three shiny conical roofs evoke the Big Island’s largest volcanoes; and all the landscaping is in native Hawaiian plants. More importantly, inside, ‘Imiloa honors the Hawaiians’ culture and religion – especially their concept of creation, which is presented in considerable detail, right alongside the findings of today’s astrophysicists about “black holes” and the “big bang.”
Another large permanent exhibit showcases the Polynesians’ voyages around the Pacific. Reaching Hawaii would have been impossible without their (literally) astronomical navigational skills. Wherever links can be made between modern astronomy and Hawaiian cosmology, they are made. And everything at ‘Imiloa (which means “far-seeing”) is captioned in both Hawaiian and English.
The work of the various observatories is also explained in plain language, with interactive, hands-on exhibits – something that probably should have been done, somewhere on the Big Island, decades ago. Mauna Kea is particularly well suited for telescopes that use infrared and “submillimeter” wavelengths of light, which reveal far more details about the stars and galaxies than can be seen in ordinary “visible” light.
‘Imiloa (www.imiloahawaii.org) also has a planetarium, with various star-shows several times a day, and a café run by a local celebrity chef. It’s just mauka of the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus, and open Tues.-Sun. from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.