Opened on February 23, 2006, as part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Science and Technology Park campus, the Imiloa Astronomy Center occupies more than nine acres of land overlooking Hilo Bay. It features a full-dome planetarium and more than 100 exhibits in its 12,000-square-foot gallery, weaving information on astronomy with Hawaiian heritage.
According to Executive Director Peter B. Giles, the mission of the Imiloa Astronomy Center is "to celebrate Hawaiian culture and Mauna Kea astronomy (in order) to share an inspiring example of how science and culture can be united to advance knowledge, understanding and opportunity.'' Its name comes from the Hawaiian word imiloa, which means "to explore or to seek profound truth.''
Many of the exhibits focus on connections between early Polynesian star navigators and present-day astronomers. The Voyaging Exhibit, for example, displays a one-fifth scale model of a Hokualakai canoe along with a modern canoe, symbolizing the continuing journey to preserve Hawaiian language and culture.
Showcased at the Imiloa Astronomy Center are examples of the research being conducted by astronomers at the Mauna Kea Observatories, where 13 huge telescopes have been mounted upon the island's highest peak. One exhibit is called "4D2U Voyage Through Space.'' Requiring visitors to wear 3D glasses, it shows a stunning representation of time and space based upon real observational data and computer simulations from the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea.
The Center also has its own planetarium for digital projections of the heavens, including a special feature called Mauna Kea: Between Earth and Sky.'' It is reportedly the first full-dome planetarium to have stereo 3D capability.
Apart from its collections of knowledge and history, the Imiloa Astronomy Center is also aesthetically pleasing. Its award-winning design features unique titanium cones as its primary vestibules. The landscaping offers one of the largest and most diverse collections of native and Hawaiian "canoe'' plants found in the islands - more than 50 native, indigenous and Polynesian-introduced plants in total. What's more, the facilities were built with 75% recycled materials, earning LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
For dining inside the Center, visitors will find the Sky Garden Restaurant. Its ceiling-to-floor glass walls provide a panoramic view of Hilo Bay. It is open to the public each Tuesday through Sunday from 7am to 4pm, serving breakfast and lunch. It is open for dinner from 5pm to 8pm on Thursday through Sunday. The restaurant space, with a capacity for 90 people, is also available for business events, weddings, dinner parties and other functions.
Special events can also be scheduled to make full use of the Center's other facilities, which include The Classroom, a 910-square-foot meeting space that is ideal for small groups. Maximum capacity is 28 people for classroom seating, and up to 40 for theater-style seated. The room is fully A/V equipped.
The exhibits of the Imiloa Astronomy Center are open to the public from 9am to 4pm. The Center is located on the campus of the University Of Hawaii at 600 Imiloa Place, Hilo, Hawaii 96720.