Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

A Q&A with Expert David Aguilar

Q: What makes Hawaii a good location for studying astronomy? 


A: The skies are remarkably dark and clear. Without a lot of city lights, the Milky Way glows so brightly overhead, it almost casts a shadow! In Hawaiian skies, a person can see more with a pair of binoculars than they can in a small telescope back home in the states. 

Q: The Smithsonian Institution conducts astronomical research on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Submillimeter Array. What kind of work is being done there and what will Journeys’ travelers see?

A: Atop Mauna Kea, the largest volcano on Earth, we will see an array of observatories and telescopes matched nowhere else on the planet. The Submillimeter Array maps the structure of the Milky Way galaxy and probes the mysteries of Black Holes, early planetary formation, dark matter and the mysterious dark energy. 

Q: The Keck Observatory houses the largest optical and infrared telescopes in the world. What makes these telescopes unique? 

A: The Keck telescopes are two 8-meter telescopes linked together as if they were one gigantic instrument. 

Q: What can Smithsonian Journeys’ travelers expect to see at the summit of Mauna Kea? 

A: The summit of Mauna Kea presents the most spectacular panorama of the Hawaiian Islands ever imaginable. Stained bright red by the rusting iron in the soil, the summit looks more like Mars than it does Earth. Capping the volcanic peaks is not white snow, but brilliant white observatory domes that nightly reach out to the stars. 

Q: Is there something you never leave home without when traveling on astronomy tours? 

A: I never leave home without my camera, binoculars and my sense of wonder. 

Q: Are there any new and exciting discoveries that have been made recently? 

A: We are on the verge of finding the first Earth-like planets orbiting other stars in the Universe. Within the next year, we will know what other worlds exist out there similar to ours and whether or not they have life on them!