HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In their most recent visit to the islands in January, former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got an extensive tour of Mauna Kea, delving into everything from the cultural to scientific aspects of the mountain.
The University of Hawaii said the Clintons first explored culturally and geologically important sites, followed by a tour of the W.M. Keck Observatory, one of the largest optical and infrared telescopes in the world.
Next up: Watching the sunset from the highest peak – nearly 14,000 feet – then a night of stargazing at the 9,200-foot elevation level.
"We showed them the Orion nebula, Pleiades open cluster and Andromeda galaxy, and towards the end, Mrs. Clinton chose a couple of objects and moved the telescope herself," UH Hilo astronomy chair Marianne Takamiya said, in a statement.
Representatives from UH Hilo's Department of Physics and Astronomy set up two, 9.25-inch telescopes for the Clintons, who appeared to be amazed during the entire 90-minute viewing session.
"Getting to show the Clintons different nebula and galaxies while sitting below one of the darkest skies in the world was an unforgettable experience," UH Hilo astronomy student Mitchel Rudisel said.
Waikea High School senior Alicia Chun, who assisted at the viewing, said she was a bit starstruck herself when meeting the couple.
"Both were a delight to talk to," Chun said. "Mrs. Clinton asked how old I was, and I blanked for a second."
Overall, the Clintons got the chance to see how the observatories atop Mauna Kea are designed for some of the most significant discoveries in astronomy.
"We had keen conversations about the well-being of science in the current national and international landscape," Keck Observatory Director Hilton Lewis said." They shared their deep and abiding appreciation for the importance of science, for our national well-being, and for the benefit of all humankind, something we at the observatory resonate with."