“10,023 Feet Up” – by Harper Will

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In early January, four of my friends and I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Hawaii to present our astronomy research project at an academic convention. The following pieces of art, however, don’t focus on the experience of the convention, but rather what came before it. The first day of our trip was spent exploring the island of Maui before heading to the convention in Honolulu. We traveled up a 38-mile long road to the summit of Haleakalā, the volcano that makes up 75% of Maui’s landmass. Because of the altitude and the winding curves, the ride was a little scary at times. We timed our journey so that we could watch the sunset at 10,000 feet in the air. The sun’s path would cross down behind the array of telescopes on the summit and then disappear over the ridge of the crater. You can see beautiful photos of this view just by doing a quick internet search, however, these photos don’t come close to the experience of being present as the sky slips into darkness. Not only was the sun magnificent, but the clouds rushing through my hair and the view of the island below made this the perfect setting for killer photos. My group, including my physics teacher, her husband, and our tour guide, took hundreds of photos at the various stages of the sunset. When not taking photos, we huddled up for warmth (the temperature was hovering above freezing) and sat taking in the scene in front of us. While this experience was unique for each of us, I figured that the best way to convey how I felt that night was through art. I would first like to acknowledge that I did not take all the shots included in this project, so I thank my group members for letting me use their pictures! I picked photos that not only demonstrated the beauty of the sunset but also the spectacle of colors. Each photo includes a quote I felt best described my experience. 

Photo 1 – This was before the sun began to set when we first arrived at the summit. The quote at the bottom is a Hawaiian proverb that roughly translates to “You can’t learn everything in schools.” In my opinion, this experience provided me with something that no astronomy class could ever give me: the hands-on component of solely being present with what you are studying. The four constellations in the sky are Leo, Cassiopeia, Orion, and the Big Dipper, which are all visible in Maui in the late winter/early spring.

Photo 2 – This was taken halfway through the sunset, as the sun began to slip behind the telescopes. I chose to use a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, as being surrounded by the beauty of nature and the cosmos makes you consider what your place in the universe is. The vastness of the sky and the ocean made me realize just how small we as humans are.

Photo 3 – Once the sun passed behind the telescopes and disappeared from our view, the sky turned into a myriad of purple and pink hues before receding into blackness. This colorful view pays homage to one of my favorite Jocelyn Bell Burnell quotes. As the colors of that night sky changed with every passing second, our understanding of the universe is fluctuating. We reach greater understanding, we progress, we find our place. Bell Burnell had described the real beauty of space: it is always changing, meaning that there is always something new to explore.