Mauna Loa Messier Marathon

I was determined to get out and use the telescope during the March new Moon, but had planned to go observing with the guys at Hale Pohaku on Mauna Kea. At the last minute I decided to accept an invitation from the Hilo group to observe from Mauna Loa instead. The guys planned on running a Messier Marathon, something I have enjoyed many times before.

Our usual observing location is Hale Pohaku, at 9,000ft on the south side of Mauna Kea. Hale Pohaku is a great observing site, high enough to be above the clouds, but well below the summit where thin air, wind and frigid temperatures can be miserable. It is impossible to do a complete Messier Marathon from Hale Pohaku, the bulk of Mauna Kea blocks too much of the northern sky making a few objects, most notably M52, difficult to impossible.

Mauna Loa Road
The Mauna Loa access road, carved through the lava and paved with red cinder asphalt
The road and climate research station on Mauna Loa sit on the northern face of the mountain, offering a perfect vantage point for the Messier catalog objects given our 20° latutude. The only issue is the road. While Hale Pohaku is reached by six miles of quite nice state highway, Mauna Loa requires navigating an 18 mile drive up a single land paved road. Use of the word “paved” is somewhat casual, as is the maintenance on the road. The first few miles feature new pavement. Beyond that? Not so much, the road becomes a pothole obstacle course. Driving the road with a delicate telescope in the back is rather nerve-wracking.

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1940 Mauna Loa Eruption Film

Vintage film of Mauna Loa eruption during 1940 by Harold T. Stearns, a USGS Hydrologist-Volcanologist.

An eruption of Mauna Loa is something everyone fears and hopes for. This enormous volcano will erupt again, almost certainly within our lifetimes, possibly even the next decade. The last eruption was in 1984, the mountain has been quiet for well over two decades now, an uncharacteristically long period of quiescence. When it does erupt this volcano is capable of emitting huge volumes of lava, that reach the sea quite quickly down the steep slopes A dangerous mountain to be wary of.

Damon posted this some time ago, definitely worth re-posting here.