The conflict over telescopes on a gorgeous Hawaiian mountain is almost at a peaceful conclusion.

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The University of Hawaii has been in charge of managing the land on Mauna Kea since the 1960s. hidden caption Andrew Richard Hara/W. M. Keck Observatory

switch to caption W. M. Keck Observatory/Andrew Richard Hara One of the most distant locations on earth is the summit of Mauna Kea, a shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The mountain is ideal for stargazing due to its flat topography, calm winds, and low humidity.

Doug Simons, the director of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, stated that when all factors are considered, Mauna Kea is perhaps the best place in the world to locate telescopes.

Since the 1960s, the university had mostly been in charge of managing the land on the mountain, but things are about to change. A state law approved last month would hand over control to a new stewardship body made up of researchers, university representatives, and locals.

Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, executive director of the Llkea Foundation, which strives to maintain native Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions, claims that the bill is a crucial step towards guaranteeing the conservation of Mauna Kea, a peak that native Hawaiians regard as sacred.

The summit area of Mauna Kea, in particular, is where we still hold the belief that the Earth Mother, or Papa, and the Sky Father, or Wkea, meet. “Thus, that is the beginning of all life. And Mauna Kea, the mountain, is said to be the first child of that union in both our cosmology and many of our old chants.”

The University of Hawaii leased more than 11,000 acres of state-owned land atop the mountain in 1968. This gave the university permission to utilize the area for research and to sublet portions of the mountain to anybody who wanted to construct observatories on its summit. Since then, they have been in charge of looking after the land there.

Native Hawaiians regard Mauna Kea as sacred. Additionally, observatories find it to be perfect. Andrew hidden caption Richard Hara/W. M. Keck Observatory
switch to caption Andrew W. M. Keck Observatory/Richard Hara

Native Hawaiians regard Mauna Kea as sacred. Additionally, observatories find it to be perfect.

W. M. Keck Observatory/Andrew Richard Hara There are currently 13 observatories on the summit, and plans call for decommissioning two of them to lessen astronomers’ impact there.

However, there are currently plans in place to add a new, far larger telescope. After completion, the Thirty-Meter Telescope, or “TMT,” which gets its name from the size of its primary mirror, would be one of the biggest in the entire globe.

The new project, for which a sublease on Mauna Kea was initially approved in 2014, has scientists delighted. According to the new observatory’s website, it would be able to provide photos that were four times sharper than the new James Webb Space Telescope and 12 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, its arrival was met with a lot of resistance.

Between 2014 and 2019, activists, particularly native Hawaiians and environmentalists, protested the TMT numerous times, claiming that its enormous size might potentially degrade the area on Mauna Kea’s already congested summit.

At the foot of Mauna Kea, protesters block a road in 2019 to oppose the TMT’s construction. hidden caption Caleb Jones/AP
switch to caption Image by Caleb Jones/AP At the foot of Mauna Kea, protesters block a road in 2019 to oppose the TMT’s construction.
Caleb Jones for AP Those demonstrations have halted the project’s progress, among other things.

Native Hawaiians, known as mauna in Hawaiian, had been trying for decades to share their opinions on how the mountain should be managed, but Wong-Wilson claimed that their voices were frequently ignored.

Wong-Wilson stated, “Our plea was to take into account the total impact of all this development. “The choices simply never worked out for us.”

On the mountain, there had been calls for changes to the organizational structure after numerous people criticized the management of the University of Hawaii. These came up again last year, and Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki made it clear where he stood in a speech to the house in February.

The University has made an effort to manage Mauna Kea, but for far too long, the University’s efforts have been obscured by its incapacity to effectively manage cultural practices, resources, and education, according to Saiki. Because of this, the University of Hawaii should stop managing Mauna Kea and stop trying to extend the master lease.

Officials from the university have stated their continuous dedication to safeguarding the mountain on numerous occasions.

The outcome of the discussions was a new bill that called for the establishment of the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority, a new organization charged with overseeing the area. The 11-member panel would contain two members for native Hawaiians and representatives from the university, observatories, and, most significantly for Wong-Wilson, two observatories.

Native Hawaiian activists pray in 2019 at the foot of Mauna Kea, which is seen in the backdrop. hidden caption Caleb Jones/AP
switch to caption Image by Caleb Jones/AP Native Hawaiian activists pray in 2019 at the foot of Mauna Kea, which is seen in the backdrop.

Caleb Jones for AP Native Hawaiians, cultural practitioners, and the community finally have a chance to participate in decision-making and assist run this crucial location thanks to the new act, according to Wong-Wilson.

In 2023, the authority will start managing the mountain in collaboration with the University of Hawaii. The new body will then assume complete control in 2028.

The negotiation of new land leases on the mountain for its current observatories will be one of the first tasks on its to-do list. All telescopes are required to cease operation by the time the lease expires in 2033, according to the original lease issued to the University of Hawaii.

The selection of the new authority’s members will be completed later. Andrew hidden caption Richard Hara/W. M. Keck Observatory
switch to caption Image 3 by Andrew Richard Hara for W. M. Keck Observatory The selection of the new authority’s members will be completed later.

Andrew W. M. Keck Observatory/Richard Hara According to John O’Meara, principal scientist at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, astronomy in Hawaii will be very important during the next few years.

The organisation will be responsible with arranging new leases for the mountain’s new and existing observatories to prevent them from being deactivated once it has complete authority over the summit.

O’Meara stated that he believed the establishment of the new body was a step in the right direction despite the uncertainties surrounding how negotiations will go.

Because everyone is coming to the realization that the mauna is at the core of this and not any one participant, O’Meara stated, “I’m convinced that astronomy can thrive in Mauna Kea and in Hawaii before 2033 and after.”

The individuals chosen to be the authority’s members, a process that will be finished when the legislature reconvenes next year, will determine how the authority will act.

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