Maunakea is unique worldwide in countless ways, among them as a premier site for studying the universe through the advanced telescopes that comprise the Maunakea Observatories. Perhaps the most distinguishing and important aspect about Maunakea for astronomy is the shape of this enormous shield volcano and its surroundings. As trade winds from the Pacific blow up and over the gently rising slopes of Maunakea, very little turbulence is created. This smooth airflow, combined with the high altitude of Maunakea’s summit, lends to much clearer images of stars, galaxies, planets, etc. compared to other sites. Maunakea is the only 14,000’ shield volcano surrounded by thousands of miles by a flat surface (Pacific Ocean) in the world – the ideal combination for viewing the cosmos with spectacular clarity. Other important properties include the low humidity at the summit (increasing the transparency of the air above Maunakea at infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths) and extremely dark skies thanks to the isolation of Maunakea from major cities, Hawai‘i County lighting ordinances, and clouds which commonly form below the summit which help block light from cities from reaching the summit.
There are lots of high mountains in remote places in the world to locate observatories, but Maunakea has the best combination of properties needed for astronomy. This is a large part of the reason the Maunakea Observatories are the most scientifically productive observatories in the world, publishing more research papers annually than European Southern Observatory’s facilities in Chile or Hubble Space Telescope.