Mauna Kea started to form over a million years ago, in stages typical of all Hawaiian volcanoes. Magma rising through fissures in the ocean crust hot spot slowly built a volcanic cone of pillow lava and glassy fragments, rock formations created by underwater eruptions. About 800,000-years ago Mauna Kea rose above sea level, and intensive mountain building began.
Mauna Kea’s shield-building phase ended about 130,000-years ago. Cinder cones at the summit mark the location of subsequent eruptions, which buried a larger central caldera. Eruptions flared even when Ice Age glaciers gripped the summit. (National Geographic)
Since 150,000 to 200,000-years ago, there have been three glacial episodes. Glacial debris on the volcano formed about 70,000-years ago and from approximately 40,000 to 13,000-years ago. Mauna Kea is presently a dormant volcano, having last erupted about 4,500-years ago. (USGS)
No point on the planet reaches higher into the atmosphere than Mount Everest: 29,035-feet (unlike the hot spot that formed Mauna Kea, Mount Everest formed as the result of a convergent tectonic boundary.)
But as a geologic formation, Everest is substantially smaller than Mauna Kea. Everest begins its rise in the Himalaya at an average elevation of 19,160-feet above sea level. Its height from base to summit averages 10,000-feet. The base of Mauna Kea starts about 45-miles out from shore at a depth of some 18,900-feet, giving it a total rise of 32,696-feet. (National Geographic)
“The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers, and (they used terms that) appertained to the heavens, the stars, terrestrial science, and the gods. Curious students will notice in this chant (Kumulipo) analogies between its accounts of the creation and that given by modern science or Sacred Scripture.” (Liliʻuokalani)
“In ancient times, the class of people studying the positions of the moon, the rising and setting of certain fixed stars and constellations, and also of the sun, are called the kilo-hōkū or astrologers. Their observations of these heavenly bodies might well be called the study of astronomy.”
“The use of astrology anciently, was to predict certain events of fortunes and misfortunes, victory or defeat of a battle, death of king or queen, or any high chief; it also foretells of pestilence, famine, fine or stormy weather and so forth.” (Nupepa Hawaiʻi, April 2, 1909)
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) undertook fencing, road building and visitor facilities on Mauna Kea. The CCC built a stone cabin at Hale Pōhaku, which gained its name (house of stone) from that structure. The cabin at Hale Pōhaku provided a shelter for overnight hikers, hunters and snow players.
In 1943, construction of a road from Hilo to what would become the Pōhakuloa Training Area began. After the end of World War II, the Saddle Road, as it was called, was extended to Waimea, greatly improving access to the south side of Mauna Kea.
In 1961, an Executive Order by Governor Quinn set aside land on the summit of Haleakala in a place known as Kolekole, to be under the control and management of the University of Hawaiʻi which established the ‘Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site,’ sometimes referred to as Science City. (IfA)
Observatories are an ‘identified land use’ in the Conservation District pursuant to HAR §13-5-24, Identified Land Uses permitted in the Resource Subzone include, R-3 Astronomy Facilities, (D-1) Astronomy facilities under an approved management plan.
In 1964, the first road to the summit, a “jeep road” was completed, and in July of that year, the Lunar and Planetary Station, located on the summit of Pu‘u Poli‘ahu was opened (Group 70.) The jeep road was improved in 1970, allowing much easier access to the summit.
The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) was founded at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) in 1967 to manage the Haleakala Observatory on Maui and to guide the development of the Mauna Kea Observatories on Hawaiʻi Island, as well as to carry out its own program of fundamental research.
In 1968 Governor John A. Burns established the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, and through a lease with the Department of Land & Natural Resources, the University of Hawaiʻi was granted the authority to operate the Science Reserve as a scientific complex.
The University of Hawaiʻi’s Board of Regents adopted its first master plan for the Science Reserve (Mauna Kea Science Reserve Complex Development Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement) in 1983.
The University’s 2000 Master Plan for the UH Management Area designated 525 acres of the UH leased land as an Astronomy Precinct within the 11,288-acre Mauna Kea Science Reserve.
Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) was established in 2000 as part of a master plan to provide responsible stewardship of Mauna Kea, including protecting cultural, natural and scientific resources, monitoring public access, and decommissioning astronomical facilities.
Kahu Kū Mauna (Guardians of the Mountain) is a volunteer community-based council whose members are from the native Hawaiian community. They give advice on Hawaiian cultural matters affecting the UH Management Areas. They review proposed projects and give their input to the Mauna Kea Management Board.
The 1983 plan included seven areas in the Science Reserve that were designated as Analysis Areas. The 2000 update of the Master Plan enabled the refinement of the Telescope Siting Areas within the Astronomy Precinct, to include all existing observatories, proposed redeveloped facilities and new facility sites.
The areas were anticipated to provide suitable observation conditions with minimum impact on existing facilities, wekiu bug habitat, archaeological sites and minimal visual were selected.
The astronomy precinct, where 13-existing telescopes are located, delineates the area of development of astronomy facilities, roads, and support infrastructure. (The remaining 10,763 acres are designated a Natural/Cultural Preservation Area in order to protect natural and cultural resources within the UH Management Areas.)
The 13-telescopes with the Mauna Kea Astronomy Precinct include:
• UH-Hilo 0.6-meter (24-inch) (1968)
• UH IfA 2.2-meter (88-inch) (1970)
• NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, 3.0-m, (1979)
• Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, 3.6-m, (1979)
• United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, 3.8-m, (1979)
• Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, 10.4-m (1987)
• James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, 15-m, (1987)
• Very Long Baseline Array, 25-m (1992)
• Keck I 10-m, (1992)
• Keck II 10-m, (1996)
• Subaru Telescope, 8.3-m, (1999)
• Gemini Northern Telescope, 8.1-m, (1999)
• Submillimeter Array, 8x6m (2002)
(The Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror is similar in size to that of the UH 2.2 meter telescope — the second smallest telescope on the mountain. However, Hubble’s position, orbiting the Earth, gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes.)
With today’s technology and the fiber optic communications system, many of the studies occurring at these observatories can be operated remotely either from Hale Pōhaku, off-mountain Hawaiʻi locations (Waimea, Hilo), or via the Internet.
The mid-elevation facilities at Hale Pōhaku have typically been associated with support of astronomers, dating back to times when all facilities were operated by on-mountain astronomers and technicians.
Today, the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy located at Hale Pōhaku has living facilities for up to 72 people working at the summit. Also located at the center are the Visitor Information Station and other support buildings. The station is managed by the Institute for Astronomy’s Mauna Kea Support Services.
In 2006, ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi was completed. The 42,000-square-foot exhibition and planetarium complex is located in the University of Hawaiʻi’s Science and Technology Park. It was designed specifically to promote the integration of modern astronomical science and the Hawaiian culture.