Disputes over Mauna Kea telescopes await peaceful resolution

The Universe. Space. Tech  – 04.09.2022


Management of the reserve at the top of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Kea is transferred to a commission of 11 representatives. 5 telescopes will be dismantled, but it is expected that the confrontation will stop and after 2033 the lease of land for scientific purposes will continue.

Telescopes on the top of Mauna Kea. Source: skyandtelescope.org

History of the telescope controversy

The Hawaiian volcano Mauna Kea has an altitude of 4205 meters above sea level. Due to its inherent cleanliness and low humidity, it is one of the best places in the world for astronomical observations. That is why, back in the early 1960s, the University of Hawaii built its first telescope with a mirror diameter of 2.2 m on top of it.

In 1968, the entire top of the mountain from 3505 meters and above was leased to this scientific institution for 65 years. A nature reserve was set up on the site, the land of which the university began to sublet to various scientific institutions for the construction of new telescopes. Over the past 60 years, a total of 13 have been built on the mountain.

Mauna Kea Observatories - IfA Facilities

However, Mauna Kea is a sacred place for the indigenous people of Hawaii. And the protection of nature in the above conditions caused a lot of doubts. So, since the beginning of the 21st century, local activists have been actively opposing astronomers.

Activists. Source: skyandtelescope.org

Controversy erupted with particular force when plans for the construction of a giant 30-dimensional telescope on Mauna Kea were published. 2/3 of Hawaii’s population and half of its indigenous population supported this decision, but activists resorted to numerous actions and repeatedly stopped construction.

Also, due to the protests, the University of Hawaii management refused to build 4 of the 6 planned remote telescopes of the Keck Observatory.

New leadership of Mauna Kea

Recently, the government of Hawaii passed a law that should stop the confrontation. According to it, the University of Hawaii reserves the right to manage 220 hectares of territory on which 12 of the 13 telescopes are located. And the remaining 2,100 hectares will be managed by a special commission of 11 members, which will include a large number of representatives of various organizations, including activists advocating the dismantling of telescopes.

By 2028, it is planned to negotiate the dismantling of a number of telescopes already built on the mountain. At the same time, negotiations will be held on extending the lease after 2033. Now it is planned that five telescopes will be dismantled.

At the same time, negotiations will be held on extending the lease after 2033. Now it will be the Submillimeter Observatory of the California Institute of Technology, the Hoku-Kea Observatory with a training telescope in it, the infrared telescope of the United Kingdom, the James Clerk Maxwell Observatory and the fifth telescope, which will still be determined. It is planned that five telescopes will be dismantled. At the same time, nothing new will be built in their place at all.

Construction of a 30-meter telescope

The construction of new telescopes on Mauna Kea is still a big question. So far, there is no certainty even with regard to the 30-meter telescope. The Scientific Foundation managing its construction has ordered a new environmental assessment to attract more funds.

The project of a 30-meter telescope. Source: skyandtelescope.org

The University of Hawaii has announced that it will be the last facility to be built on the mountain and it will not be located at the very top, but much lower. It is expected that the rent for the use of the land on which the telescope will be located will amount to one million dollars per year.


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Mauna Kea