Opened in February of 2006, this is the newest and largest of Hawaii’s three planetariums. The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii takes its name from “ `imiloa,” the Hawaiian word that means “explorer” or “seeker of profound truth.” Located above the University of Hawaii-Hilo and featuring spectacular views of Hilo Bay, its dramatic titanium-clad exterior features three metallic cones piercing the exterior roof line—they are meant as an abstraction of the island’s three volcanoes (Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai) but also unintentionally bring to mind Madonna’s famous bra.
The full dome planetarium is among the most technologically advanced in the U.S., and the display hall holds nearly 100 exhibits. The planetarium boasts a state-of-the-art digital theater system with six-channel surround sound and an interactive console at each seat. The show, “Maunakea: Between Earth and Sky,” is a 22- minutes talk-story film about the island’s birth. Among the things we learn are that having observatories on Hawaii’s loftiest sacred summit is controversial, and that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth’s beaches. Simple fun is added at the conclusion with trips into a blackhole and along the surface of a mobius strip.
Visitors enter the exhibit hall through a simulated koa forest. All displays are explained in both English and Hawaiian. A reproduction of Mauna Kea shows the location of sacred Lake Wai’au, where some locals still make a pilgrimage to place their baby’s umbilical cord as acknowledgement of their origin. A multimedia theater presents the Kumulipo Hawaiian Chant of Origins, which chronicles the birth of life as it emerges from the dark sea and features fish “swimming” right off the screen. With hands-on exhibits that are both educational and intriguing and that encourage exploration of space, the main exhibit hall explains the origins of the universe.
Among the gems in the ocean of exhibits and charts here are Astronomical Origins, which lets visitors step inside a silo to be scanned and learn the history of an atom inside their body, and Sampan Taxi, which takes you on a robot-guided tour to Pluto. Finally, the 3-D show “Voyage Through Space” takes you back in time to the Big Bang origins of the universe; the computer simulation is based on real output from the Subaru Telescope.
Visitors can also stroll through the center’s surrounding gardens--one of the largest and most diverse collections of native Hawaiian and “canoe” plants (vegetation brought by early Polynesian navigators) found in the islands.
The bay-view Sky Garden Restaurant serves hearty artisan bread sandwiches and soups along with pizzas, salads, and hot entrées. It also features 100-percent Hawaiian coffee, smoothies, and shakes.
|exterior of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in Hilo|
|lobby floor mosaic at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in Hilo|
|exhibit at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in Hilo|
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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers