High science is probably not what most people would think of first about a Hawaii vacation. No, sundrenched beaches and exotic jungles have earned that distinction, and rightfully so. But many visitors are surprised to learn that Hawaii is, in fact, at the center of cutting-edge astronomy.

Visiting stargazers and amateur astronomers have a unique opportunity to visit a free (parking, too), annual open-house event at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy on Sunday, April 12. The Institute is at the forefront of some of the most advanced astronomical research being conducted on earth and beyond (way, way beyond).

Working with agencies like NASA, the National Science Foundation, the US Air Force, and dozens of countries around the world at observatories at the summits of Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Kea on the Big Island, the Institute for Astronomy is involved in the most important science taking place today.

From planetary science within our own solar system to inconceivably distant galaxies, the scientists at the Institute for Astronomy are opening their doors to the public to offer a chance to look into the cosmos. The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Light, so this year’s open house activities are to include viewing the sun through a telescope, and talks about the “invisible” universe, and a portable planetarium. Demonstrations of air rockets, a wind tunnel, a 3-D printer, and other wonders of science will take place, and there’s even face-painting, sun dial-making, and bottle rocket launching for the kids.

The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy is just a few minutes from Waikiki, in lush Manoa Valley. After visiting the open house, you can grab a bite at the nearby Manoa Marketplace, make the short hike to Manoa Falls in the back of the valley, or both. The Institute’s free open house is a great way to experience a part of Hawaii that might otherwise be missed.

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