Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Update on Mauna Kea: Telescope project given green light

by Salman Hameed

For the past couple of years we have been following the controversy over telescopes on Mauna Kea. This dispute has come to a head over the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). This is a tough-tough issue. Astronomy, culture and environmentalism meet at 14,000 feet - and leave almost no one happy. The TMT folks did learn from the past mistakes of astronomers, and I think they overall did a good job of reaching out to the local Hawai'ian community. But it is also true that, for some, any new construction will be a further sacrilege - let alone the construction of the one of the largest ever optical telescopes. Although astronomers had nothing to do with this, but all of these issues are further complicated by the messy history of how the US took over Hawai'i in the late 19th century - and the early treatment of native Hawai'ans.

This past week, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) unanimously approved the $1.3 billion project (see an earlier post: University of Hawaii Regents Approve Plans for TMT on Mauna Kea). This approval was widely expected. But the Board also left room for one more hearing by the opponents of the telescope. I don't think any thing will change with another hearing. Everyone is set with their views and the TMT has, overall, followed the procedures well. I think this will be a spectacular telescope (it is expected to begin its construction in 2012). At the same time, I also hope that astronomers appreciate and recognize the historical and cultural context of the arguments of the telescope opponents.

If interested, you can find earlier posts on the topic here:
University of Hawaii Regents Approve Plans for TMT on Mauna Kea
Management Plan Approved for Telescopes on Sacred Mauna Kea
Hawaii-Tribune Herald on the recent Mauna Kea lawsuit decision
Mauna Kea Observatories Update 
Is it good news that Maui is picked as the site for a new Solar telescope?

By the way, if you are prefer getting history via Hollywood, you can check out Princess Ka'iulani about the early period of US takeover of Hawaii. She was heir to the throne when US took over in the late 19th century. The movie is okay - but at least it provides light on to an area rarely talked about. Here is the trailer:

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