You might have seen news coverage in recent weeks about the controversy surrounding the planned construction of the giant new Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. It’s a sad situation, a clash of cultures each with different and valid worldviews.
At issue is the TMT’s planned location on Maunakea, a dormant volcano that is revered as a sacred site by some Native Hawaiians, who regard it as the place that connects the islands of Hawaii to the sky father, Wakea. Even the name, Maunakea, comes from Ka Mauna a Wakea, which means “Wakea’s mountain” in the Hawaiian language. To some Native Hawaiians, the proposed building of a giant new telescope on this mountain is desecration of sacred land, and protests have erupted over TMT construction.
What makes Maunakea so special to astronomers is its location. Surrounded by thousands of miles of open sea, the mountain is blessed with exceptionally stable air and clear skies. And at a height of 14,000 feet, telescopes there stand above nearly half our planet’s atmosphere. This yields some of the sharpest and most detailed views of the universe obtainable anywhere on earth, without the blurriness that usually occurs when light from stars and galaxies passes through earth’s turbulent air.
Last month, 31 protestors were arrested for blocking the road to the mountain’s summit. The TMT, which legally has the right to proceed, has temporarily halted construction in an effort to find a peaceful compromise if possible. It’s a complex issue, and how it will end is anybody’s guess.
Today at 5:44 pm, WCAI (Cape and Islands NPR) will air a short interview that I did with Steve Junker about the TMT controversy. If you’re interested, you can listen live on the radio or stream it at your leisure at:
If you’d like to know more about the TMT controversy, you’ll find lots of diverse views at the following links:
Scientific American also invited me to write an op-ed piece about the TMT controversy; it will be published in the July print issue of the magazine if you’re interested.
Dr. Michael West