From lava to the stars.

9 09 2008

We made a pretty stunning discovery in Halema`uma`u on Friday. Many months after the explosion that first opened the vent, we finally had visual confirmation of a roiling, active lava lake inside. Some of the scientists were over the vent in a helicopter, and they were able to get pictures and video of the lava. The best estimate is that it’s about 100 meters below the top of the vent. A few hours after the helicopter overflight, I went out with the gas geochemistry team to do Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, or FTIR since the lava was visible.

The round part on top of the tripod is a telescope, and the box on top is the spectrometer. Anyway, since we were on the rim and right over the vent, I think perhaps a picture of the lava’s incandescence is in order.

Yep, that’s lava down there. That sort of glow just doesn’t normally happen during daylight hours. It was truly impressive to stand right above a lava lake. The noises were loud, tremendous, and unrelenting. If it wasn’t clanging with rock falls, it was making gas-rushing noises that sounded like jet engines. The earth is alive!

I have a special treat for all of you. My colleague Brian White was down on the other side of the vent from where I was, and he recorded video. You can finally hear the noises I keep writing about! Make sure your sound is turned on. It’s possible to see some of the incandescence as well.

Thanks Brian!

Saturday brought more impressive sights. I ventured up Mauna Kea with some colleagues to check out the view and do some stargazing. The name Mauna Kea means White Mountain, and that’s because it frequently has snow on its peak during winter. It stands 13,796 feet above the ocean, and is older than Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Kea is considered dormant, but not extinct. It’s also home to some of the world’s best telescopes and astronomical observatories.

Those are the Keck Twins, formally known as the W.M. Keck Observatory. They sit 85 meters apart at Mauna Kea’s summit and they each have a 10 meter primary mirror.

Those are cinder cones on the north flank of Mauna Kea. Since the volcano is in its “post-shield building” stage, it is literally pockmarked with cones like these.

This is the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. It was posing nicely for me. It was built to support the Voyager missions.

This is the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory with its dome open.

I don’t think that one needs much explanation.

Here we have the moon, some stars, and the Subaru Telescope.

Last but certainly not least, I give you this:

Yes, that’s a laser issuing from one of the Keck Twins. It actually creates an artificial star that astronomers use to establish a relative location in the sky. I’m sure it does some other neat things, too, but I’m not aware of what they are, exactly. ***EDIT*** Check out Andrew Cooper’s comment at the end of this post for the actual use of the artificial star. He knows what he’s talking about!

If you’re ever in Hawai`i, sunset on Mauna Kea is definitely in order. Oh yeah…you might want to check out any available lava lakes, too.

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Damage Report!

12 07 2008

I have returned safely from my `Ainapo Trail survey, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I am beat. Literally. It looks like I was in a fight. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The bottoms of both of my feet are covered in blisters. Each heel is covered by a blister. All of the available bottom surface of both big toes is consumed by blister. Several smaller toes are in on the action, and I have a few random blisters on the balls of both feet as well as sporadic, small blisters elsewhere. It is thoroughly disgusting and incredibly painful.

In addition to the blister invasion, I can’t really move my lower body. My pack weighed 43lbs, and when I was carrying the kGPS the weight totalled 61lbs. For reference, I weigh 130lbs with clothes on. If you are not a fan of math, that translates to about 47% of my body weight. As a result, I slipped and fell on a few occasions. Yesterday morning I managed a stunning kneeplant into some a`a lava, which as you hopefully recall is the pointy, unforgiving kind. Half of my left knee is swollen, all of it is bruised, and there are a few bloody spots to be found. My wounded knee (haha) decided to rebel early this morning and consequently made the rest of our epic journey fairly unpleasant. Walking on a normal surface would’ve been a challenge, and the windward side of Mauna Loa is anything but normal.

I am also the proud owner of eleven new bruises (that I can find without assistance), assorted scratches, and a plethora of achey body parts.

I love my life. Seriously.

Since I’m too pathetically sore to stand up and procure my camera from the foot of my bed, pictures and a description of the survey will have to wait. Also, there’s a small piece of basalt in my eye. This ought to annoy me, but how many people complain about lava chips from Mauna Loa invading personal eye space? I am going to appreciate this chip! Ok, I’m going to appreciate it for about 30 seconds and then get it out.

Here’s a video of the brand new eruption near Pu`u O`o to tide all of you over until I can write more.

The helicopter they were using to shoot the video? That’s the one I’ve ridden in twice now. I do the same sort of thing, except minus the video camera and over Mauna Loa instead. I’m hoping to get out to the active eruption site in the helo next week. Time to go nurse my battle wounds!