Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Evening With Pele

Of course, one of the highlights of a trip to Hawaii is a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see a real live volcano.  The Kilauea vent has been continuously erupting for nearly 30 years, and this being my 3rd visit, I've never been disappointed.  The previous trips we've gone down to the south flank of the volcano at night and watched lava flow down the slope and enter the Pacific.  This time the real action is at the Halemaʻumaʻu crater (which the road used to go through in a previous visit!), where a vent opened in 2008 and molten lava has been observed there since.  Lucky for us, the height reached a record height just a few days ago 80 feet below the crater floor, so has been extremely active.  I was hoping to see lava directly, and regardless of height, the crater walls have been illuminated directly, so visible at night.  I wanted those night shots!

Oh, and by the way, the title above mentions Pele, the volcano goddess associated with many stories and myths of ancient Hawaii. 

Our travelling family unit, Melinda and me, Betty, Susan and Shannon left about 9am and took the "scenic route" counter-clockwise around the Big Island from our hotel.  We were always within a few miles of the coast, and made a number of stops for refreshments, fruit and nut stands, black sand beaches, that sort of thing.  We got to the Park about 2pm, in time for a cold sandwich for lunch before exploring the visitor center and observation station where we could gaze out at the belching steam and sulfur emissions coming out of the crater (imaged above).  That was pretty cool, but we were hoping for more for our night time visit.

After a dinner trip to Volcano Village, the girls allowed me to return to take pictures.  As we approached, this little populated part of the island suddenly resembled the parking lot of a home football game.  Rangers had blocked off the road and were only allowing cars in as fast as they were leaving, which I guess is a good idea with limited parking and lots of demand.  But we finally got to the overlook with the Hunter's full moon rising into the eastern sky.  It was quite spectacular!  While no lava was directly visible, it did directly illuminate the walls of Halemaʻumaʻu with a golden fiery glow.  The glow extended up into the venting steam and gas, and the moonlight also lit up the western edge of the crater.  The glow from the lava was so strong that I couldn't expose long enough to collect much starlight without blowing out the subtle glows!
As mentioned, the place was rocking with visitors, most shooting it with cellphones.  Image at left with Scorpius setting - Antares is just about to set behind the south slope of Mauna Loa, with planet Mars just above.  I was hoping to get some better results with a real camera, in fact I took a few hundred frames at regular intervals to turn into a time-lapse image eventually when I get home.  The trade winds were blowing mightily, and the girls were getting impatient in the cold (volcano vent is at about 4,000 feet, so it was admittedly very cool, temperature-wise).  But before closing up shop for the night and do the marathon drive back, we took a group shot with the vent in the background.  Front-to-back is Min, Susan, Betty, Shannon and me.  This is an 8 second exposure with some combination of flash and moonlight for us.  The return trip was via Hilo, where predictably it was raining on the windward side of the island.  We then returned to the hotel on the west side via the Saddle Road, which passes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  It was cool passing between 2 of the largest mountains in the world, when measured from the sea floor where they start. 
It was a marvelous night when we returned, though the trade winds were still howling.  The bright star Archenar was culminating to the south over the shield volcano Hualalai, 8300 feet above us, since we were sitting at sea level.  You can see that the palms were in constant motion during the 30 second exposure.  Interestingly, Archernar just grazes above our southern horizon from Tucson.  But here in Hawaii we are about 13 degrees further south in latitude, so the star is correspondingly higher.  Another benefit of visiting the island paradise!

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