Telescope in Hawai’i Brings Controversy

Over Parents’ Weekend, the Lu’au wowed the students and their families with fascinating dance, food and traditions from the Hawai’ian culture.

Meanwhile, as we were captivated watching hula dancers onstage, the land from which many of the dances  originated was facing deep turmoil.  Currently on the island of Hawai’i, colloquially  known as the ‘Big Island’ scientists are building a 30-meter telescope projected to be one of the world’s most powerful.

What could be wrong about such significant scientific progress, you might ask?  This $1.4 billion telescope has been fueling much debate over social media recently because of its placement. The site of construction happens to be on the summit of Mount Mauna Kea, a sacred location and burial ground for many native Hawai’ians.

The location of the project has caused much debate, and even demonstrations, over the issue of maintaining respect for both scientific progress and native Hawai’ian culture.

On one hand, it makes for an ideal scientific observation point.  It rises 32,000 feet, making it the highest mountain in the world from sea level.

Due to its distance from light pollution and its clean dry air, the telescopes atop Mauna Kea are able to view some of the furthest of galaxies.

According to the project’s website, the telescope would permit astronomers to see 13 billion light years away.

The scope of construction would be grand.  The telescope is projected to be 18 stories tall and 1.44 acres wide.  Numerous public and private corporations as well as the United States, India, Japan, China and Canada have invested in the construction.

On the other extremely significant hand, it is a sacred and historical place.

“It’s the place that we [Hawai’ians] are closest to our ancestors… a place that was closest to the heavens, where we went to feel closer to them,” first-year student Carly Arraujo, who is from the Big Island, said. “There are grave sites of significant people of our history that they are disregarding… in order to start bulldozing and make more room to add on to what they have already taken from us.”

Not only would building the telescope destroy culturally important Hawai’ian lands, it would also significantly impact the land ecologically.

“It has a lot to do with how the mountain reacts to the atmosphere and how much snow collects on the top of the mountain.  When the snow melts it feeds water to the rest of the island, and we have already been in a drought. The telescopes, which they already have twelve or thirteen of atop the mountain, have already changed the weather patterns on the mountain. [Scientists] are totally disregarding that,” Arraujo said.

The production of the telescope has spurred much heated debate over social media.

With the hashtag #WeAreMaunaKea, many have spread the word about the project.

Even celebrities such as Jason Momoa, Kelly Slater and Ian Somerhalder have posted pictures of themselves with the words, “We are Mauna Kea,” written across their bodies.

However, some native Hawaiians are not opposed to the building of the telescope.  Some Hawai’ians have pointed out that the Polynesian culture is one of astronomical exploration.

These Hawai’ians believe that the telescope would be the ultimate tribute to Polynesian culture.