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Stargazing at the top of the world | by Michael Layefsky
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Stargazing at the top of the world

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The view is spectacular from the 14,000 ft. (4,200 meter) summit of Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii. Seen here is the Canada-France-Hawaii Observatory, housing a 3.6 meter optical telescope. There are 12 other telescopes nearby, owned by different countries and academic institutions.


The summit of Mauna Kea is well above a dramatic looking inversion layer of clouds, which keeps the moist marine air below. It is so dry here that my kite fabric had shrunk, making the kite tight as a drum when I inserted its frame. This is the perfect environment for astronomy, but a bit tricky for flying kites. Though it felt like there was a decent breeze, with the significant reduction in atmosphere here at this altitude, my 8 foot kite could barely lift my lightweight camera rig.


I was a bit worried about how my body would react to this extreme altitude. The lack of oxygen was readily apparent, but I'm happy to report that I experienced no discomfort or problems of any kind.


Many thanks to Tom Benedict, a fellow kite aerial photographer who works at this telescope, for bringing my family, friends, and I up here to visit this incredible place.


Taken by a camera lofted by a kite.


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Taken on July 7, 2011