A Field Trip to the Sun

A Field Trip to the Sun

This guest blog post was contributed by Jeffrey Yuhas, a teacher at the Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey who brought his students 11,000 feet above sea level to observe the Sun at the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.


By Jeffrey Yuhas

In March 2015 I had the pleasure of bringing my students to the Big Island of Hawaii. We hiked to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, saw the glow of the Kilauea Caldera, explored the Waipio Valley, and even managed to work in surfing lessons. A highlight of the trip was driving partway up the flank of Mauna Loa where Allen Stueben treated us to a tour of the NCAR Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO).

This was an especially unique opportunity for high school students from New Jersey to learn about a cutting edge research facility. Not only is MLSO located way off the beaten path (it is a 17 mile drive up a single lane access road that is not for the faint of heart), it is not generally opened to the public. Allen, an observer at MLSO, was kind enough to show us around.

After arriving at the observatory we were overwhelmed by the view of snow covered Mauna Kea - a blizzard the previous week had covered the peaks with snow. As one of my students said, “The solar observatory tour not only provided us with a face-to-face meeting with the person who runs the observatory, allowing us to ask him questions, but also provided us with a special opportunity to see how it works. The tour was also important to us because it provided the opportunity to see the application of the data after it was collected.” Another added, “I thought that the solar observatory was fascinating! Mr. Stueben seemed to really love what he did. He was so exited to share with us.”

One of the harder things to adjust to was simply functioning at 11,000 feet. At this altitude the short trek up the boardwalk to the Solar Observatory was difficult and just sitting down and admiring the snow on Mauna Kea was very appealing. While we left plenty of snow behind in the Northeast, the students still enjoyed throwing snowballs in Hawaii.

There is nothing better than bringing your students to an engaging environment that sparks their imagination!