Scientists hope court setback doesn't stop giant telescope

The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the $1.4 billion project's permit to build a giant telescope on conservation land near the summit of Mauna Kea.

Caleb Jones/AP/File
This Aug. 31, 2015 file photo shows telescopes are shown on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, near Hilo, Hawaii. The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the $1.4 billion project’s permit to build on conservation land near the summit of Mauna Kea. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing, which could delay construction by several years.

Scientists involved in Hawaii astronomy have a message for the builders of a giant telescope planned for a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians: Hang in there.

The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the $1.4 billion project's permit to build on conservation land near the summit of Mauna Kea. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing, which could delay construction by several years. The nonprofit company building the Thirty Meter Telescope hasn't indicated what it will do next. Protesters say they will continue to fight the telescope at every step if officials pursue a new hearing.

If the project dies, not only will that be bad for Hawaii astronomy, but for any high-tech industry considering Hawaii, said Paul Coleman, an astrophysicist at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.

"If it's not possible to get around this, then it really kind of shines a bad light on Hawaii," he said. "This will be a global disappointment. I would think it would be very hard for a new project to come here, ever."

A group of universities in California and Canada plan to build the telescope with partners from China, India and Japan. Coleman said he's hopeful the countries involved "feel this is a project worth hanging on for."

After all, astronomers are accustomed to long delays. "One project I was involved in took me five years to get data," Coleman said of various weather and technical issues. "We're kind of used to showing up and not doing what we want to do."

Coleman, who is Native Hawaiian, may never get to use to the telescope if it's built, he said. But a fellow Native Hawaiian in the field, who recently earned her doctorate from the University of Hawaii, could.

"I still think the project is a good project and there's a way we can move forward balancing cultural aspects as well as scientific advancement," said Heather Kaluna, who is the first Native Hawaiian to earn a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Hawaii.

Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope already on Mauna Kea, is concerned that abandoning the project could prevent other Big Island students like Kaluna from educational opportunities in science. Thirty Meter Telescope officials launched the Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund for STEM education, a fund that will contribute $1 million annually for the 19-year Mauna Kea sublease with the University of Hawaii.

"We don't have that kind of philanthropy flowing into the school community," Simons said. "That would be a huge loss."

Having lived on the Big Island for 30 years, Simons said he sympathizes with protesters' cultural concerns.

"TMT and Mauna Kea have served as something of a focal point in a range of longstanding concerns within the Hawaiian community," he said, adding that he knows protesters are not against science, or the telescope itself.

"It happened to be a telescope," that protesters banded together to oppose, he said. "It could have been something else somewhere else in the islands."

Despite their disagreements about Mauna Kea, Simons said he has had a good relationship with the protesters who maintained constant vigil on the mountain to prevent construction from resuming. "I've always been treated with respect and I've never felt threatened," he said.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Scientists hope court setback doesn't stop giant telescope
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/1212/Scientists-hope-court-setback-doesn-t-stop-giant-telescope
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe