Nightscape at 10,000 feet, where Earth and sky take your breath away

Panorama of Earth and sky from the 10,000+ foot summit of Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii. A cloud layer seeps over the volcanic caldera’s edge with the Milky Way and starry night sky above. Copyright: Wally Pacholka

If you’ve ever been to Maui, a Hawaiian island equally famous for its beaches and observatories, you may have taken the winding drive to the top of the Haleakala Crater, a volcano that seems quiet now but still has the potential for future eruptions. There at 10,000 feet a landscape of volcanic cinder cones the color of Mars stretches out before you. Bleak at first glance, many find it oddly inviting.

California photographer Wally Pacholka roams the national parks with his cameras taking photos of the Milky Way, meteors and other sky phenomena. Click to visit his Facebook page. 

Most visitors to the mountaintop make the drive during the day and go for a short hike along the well-worn, rocky trail. But not Wally Pacholka.

The California photographer drove up at night on March 27 to make this spectacular image of the springtime Milky Way rising over the rugged heights of Earth. Well, it was a little more complicated than that:

(I was) “huddled in the back seat of a rental car on  cold 10,000 foot Haleakala Crater,” said Pacholka, “with endless rain pounding on roof of car for nights on end, until a clearing in the skies” on the 27th.

An annotated version of the photo above. The Milky Way reaches from the Northern Cross (left) all the way to the Southern Cross. Both are easily visible from the Maui’s 21 degree north latitude. Click to enlarge. Copyright: Wally Pacholka

His efforts shows in a very poignant way the interface of planet Earth with the greater cosmos. The Milky Way arcs like a rainbow across the eastern sky spanning the two great crosses of the heavens: Cygnus the Northern Cross and Crux the Southern Cross. At upper right is the planet Saturn and to its lower left the bright red star Antares in Scorpius.

Hikers walk the rim trail in Haleakala Crater at 10,000 feet on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The red hill  behind the couple is the same hill pictured in the distance in the night shots. Credit: Bob King

Last October I hiked the Haleakala Crater in cool, sunshiny 60 degree temperatures when down at beach level people glistened in 90 degree heat. I loved that walk and took many pictures including one with a similar perspective as Pacholka’s night shot. I thought you’d enjoy seeing both.

A different angle on the crater summit showing multiple cinder cones that mark the sites of volcanic vents. Credit: Bob King

If I ever return to Hawaii, I’m already inspired to head up the big slope again, but this time at night to experience live what Wally captured so well.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

7 thoughts on “Nightscape at 10,000 feet, where Earth and sky take your breath away

  1. Second magnitude 85 Ursa Major should be within a degree of comet Panstarrs K1 on and around April 30. The comet should be nearing magnitude 8 in early May. Recent observations in the last couple weeks have put it just slightly dimmer than comet Jacques.

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