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What's It Worth? A Night of Star Gazing from Mauna Kea

If you love looking at the stars in the night sky, but want a better view than you get from your backyard, you might consider renting a Mauna Kea observatory for a night.

Photo: Thinkstock

There are 11 observatories perched above the 13,000-foot level of the dormant volcano on Hawaii Island, which is widely considered the world’s best site for studying the universe. To hire one telescope with the necessary operating personnel would run you from $25,000 to $30,000 per night, according to Dr. Jim Kennedy, former head of the Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope on Mauna Kea.

The observatory cost $92 million to build in 1999 and employs some 112 locally based personnel. About $25,000 a night is a bargain, considering that Gemini’s annual operating cost is $13.9 million; divide that by 365 days in a year and the actual nightly upkeep rounds out at $38,082.

A persistent misconception is that $80,000 is the price for one night’s usage at a Mauna Kea observatory. “That really annoys me,” says one expert in Hawaii Island astronomy. “It originated with a press release from one of the Ivy League universities. An overzealous PR person divided the university’s investment in one of the observatories by the number of nights it was subsequently entitled to. The result was $80,000, but it was not a purchase of nightly viewing rights.”

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Hawaii Business,November