story by Jessica Machado
photo by Chris McDonough
It’s a slightly overcast night in Makakilo, miles beyond the Honolulu city lights. Raymond Young is holed up in what could easily be mistaken for a woodshed in his backyard. But this is his own personal observatory, his window on the stars.
Inside he flips a switch, and a Star Trek-like overture booms through the dark, intimate room. The roof draws back like a convertible; silhouetted against the vastness of a twinkling universe is the observatory’s monstrous centerpiece: a 12-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope—the same size and model as the one at Bishop Museum’s planetarium—craning its neck in search of constellations 1,500 light-years away. “You can say I have aperture fever,” Young says. “I always want bigger and bigger toys.”
At 1,100 feet and far from the city’s light pollution, Young’s property overlooking Diamond Head is an astronomer’s dream. When it went for sale in 1989, he was at the front of the line, plotting where he would set up his scope. After studying astronomy for years on his own, in 1993 the 53-year-old ex-city planner decided he’d much rather share his discoveries than stargaze in solitude. So Young turned his passion into a business, Astro Tours Hawaii.
Guests can explore the Big Dipper or view the bright eyes of the Owl Cluster while Young answers questions and expels trivia—like staying out of the sun before stargazing helps your eyes adjust to the dark, and nights when the stars are twinkling aren’t necessarily best for viewing (the more wind, the more twinkle). Young likes to show viewers one of the youngest visible star formations, the Orion Nebula, a “nursery” of four stars that’s a mere 80,000 light-years away (as opposed to older sun-like stars that are 7 billion light-years off).
Young welcomes visitors on most clear evenings, entertaining small groups and couples. During meteor showers, he hosts star parties where astro-tourists spread out on blankets and sip hot cocoa on the lawn.
The most popular celestial body? “Visitors find Saturn very inspiring,” he says. “The three-dimensional shadow of its globe cast onto its rings never fails to elicit a gasp.” HH