The word ‘Imiloa’ means “exploration driven by a sense of wonder and imagination” and that’s exactly the mission at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i. Their goal is to share Hawaiian culture and science to inspire exploration. I know an Astronomy Center sounds kind of boring but this place is everything but. It opened six years ago and is part of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo’s campus. The $28 million center features more than 100 exhibits in its 12,000-square-foot gallery that intertwines astronomy and Hawaiian culture into a compelling story of human exploration and voyaging.

The main highlight is visiting the 3D Planetarium which is one of only eight in the world and the only one in America. It does cost $5 extra to see a show but they loan you 3D glasses upon entering (FYI: those glasses are made in Germany and cost 350 euro = $464 each so don’t break them). To create the 3D effects takes 16 computers and 4 projectors.

They can also turn the 3D off and show you all the planets, asteroids and space junk in real time. After our demonstration I asked whether the space junk would be a hazard for space flights and the professor said “no as NASA can pinpoint them to within a size of quarter.” We also learned about Venus’ runaway greenhouse and it’s something Earth needs to worry about because once it happens there’s no turning back.  And that as of 2006 Pluto is no longer considered a planet – where the hell was I when they made that announcement?

The second highlight of the center was the SOS – Science On a Sphere – that was developed by a doctor and the data is supplied by NOAA. A University intern demonstrated several of the 591 data sets using an iPad and it was remarkable what they could do. It’s too difficult to explain so it’s best to go visit yourself – you won’t be sorry.

It’s open six days a week (closed on Mondays). Admission costs: $17.50 for adults, $9.50 for children 5–12 and children under 5 get in for free. Tip: To get a discount on admission log on to their website and learn the “Hawaiian word of the day.” They also usually include coupons in the free travel weekly guides you see all over the islands.

Other notes I couldn’t find room in my story for:

-The Center is a place of safe dialogue between astronomers and locals.
-The architecture has three cones, each one symbolizing the Big Island’s three volcanoes
-The center is on hollow ground
-All the plants around the building are native
-It was built using federal earmark money
-They normally get 4,500 visitors a month and there are some free days that are sponsored by local supermarkets.
-There was a high school prom taking place the night we were there
-Walking out of the center you can really notice all of the loud tree frogs. We were told this is the only Hawaiian island they can be found on and they believe it’s because they came over on a Walmart shipment of plants from Puerto Rico about 15 years ago.

More info on ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i

Credit: Marriott
Credit: Marriott

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