Photos show why many native Hawaiians don't want a giant telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea

Joey Hadden
Hawaiian Protests

Caleb Jones/AP


On the Big Island — the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and in the US as a whole — the volcano known as Mauna Kea is dormant.

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Mauna Kea is an astronomer's dream for a few reasons.

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The summit of the mountain is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, which is above half of the Earth's atmosphere, and it sits above the cloud line.

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Source: Associated Press, Business Insider



Building a telescope in the crater of a dormant volcano would block out light pollution from cities.

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Source: Associated Press



The ocean water around the Big Island is consistently warm, which keeps the atmosphere stable. A stable atmosphere makes for a clearer telescope image, according to the University of Hawaii.

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Source: Associated Press, University of Hawaii



"There is almost no major astronomical discovery where there was not very important input from the telescopes on Mauna Kea," Guenther Hasinger, director of Mauna Kea's Institute for Astronomy, told the Associated Press.

Nasa/Reuters from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and visible data provided by Japan's Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Source: Associated Press



It explains why more than a dozen telescopes already exist on the mountain and why scientists want to build another telescope on it.

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The Thirty Meter Telescope, widely known as TMT, gets its name from its proposed size, and it is set to be built on top of Mauna Kea.

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TMT would be three times as large as of any existing visible-light telescope, and it would take up nine times as much space.

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The telescope could transform astronomy, but the project is facing heavy pushback from Native Hawaiians and activists.

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TMT would show astronomers "forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe, near the beginning of time," according to the Smithsonian.

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine



The reasons for pushback date to before there were any telescopes on the mountain, or anywhere in the world.

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Source: "Archaeological Inventory Survey of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Final Report"



Traditionally, Mauna Kea is sacred land. Some Native Hawaiians believe it is where Wakea, the sky God, met with the Earth Goddess, Papa, and created the Big Island, the first child island of Hawaii.

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Source: "Archaeological Inventory Survey of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Final Report"





Some Native Hawaiians see Mauna Kea as the cord connecting heaven to Hawaii.

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Source: Archaeological Inventory Survey of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Final Report prepared by Pacific Consulting Services Inc. for Office of Mauna Kea Management Pacific Consulting Services Inc.



The people who cherish Mauna Kea value the custom of being mindful and responsible for caring for the earth before looking to the heavens.

Caleb Jones/AP

Source: "A Collection of Native Traditions, Historical Accounts, and Oral History Interviews for: Mauna Kea, the Lands of Ka'ohe, Humu'ula, and the 'Āina Mauna on the Island of Hawai'i"



Ancient Hawaiians considered the summit "kapu" — or forbidden.

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Only the highest-ranking members of society were allowed to journey to Mauna Kea's summit above the clouds.

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The Mauna Kea Science Reserve is about 11,215 acres centered on the summit, and it is home to 263 historic properties, including 141 ancient shrines, according to Honolulu Magazine.

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Source: Honolulu Magazine



The Native Hawaiian people's reverence for Mauna Kea is one reason people have been protesting the construction of TMT on the mountain.

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Source: Business Insider, Smithsonian Magazine



While some people may see sacredness merely as a concept, for many Native Hawaiians it's as true as gravity. They see sacredness as a lived experience that connects them to the spiritual world.

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine



Some Native Hawaiians and activists see the construction of TMT as a tipping point.

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine, Business Insider, Business Insider, The Nation



Hawaii has a long and complicated history with American colonialism and the digging up of its land, and some Hawaiians see the construction of TMT as another instance of foreign powers doing what they want at the expense of the natives.

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Source: Smithsonian Magazine, Business Insider, Business Insider, The Nation



Protesters hope to not only stop the telescope construction but also bring attention to their issues with "the state's economic interests being given priority over Native Hawaiian cultural and land use rights," The New York Times reported.

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Source: The New York Times



The protest went viral this summer, and Hollywood started getting involved. The actor Jason Momoa, who is from Hawaii, and Dwayne Johnson are among those who have voiced their oppositions to the telescope.

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On the other hand, some Native Hawaiians believe that TMT is a way to honor the mountain's sacred roots.

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Source: KITV Island News



Nacea Stevens, a Native Hawaiian and mountain guide, told KITV Island News that his ancestors had a special connection to Mauna Kea, being some of the only people allowed to access the summit before it became public. Stevens also supports the construction of TMT.

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Source: KITV Island News



"In the Kumulipo [creation chant], there are a couple of lines: 'There is nothing but night. There is nothing but darkness and the darkness gave birth. From the creation came everything,'" Stevens told KITV.

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Source: KITV Island News



"With astronomy being able to see back in time, to the time of Po, the great darkness, there is an incredible amount of knowledge to be gained for both our future and our past," Stevens said.

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Source: KITV Island News



Others who support the project say it will do more than make important scientific discoveries.

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Source: Business Insider



They say it will also bring more educational and economic opportunities to Hawaii.

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Source: Business Insider



While the telescope is heavily debated, Hawaii's Supreme Court has ruled that the construction is legal. Gov. David Ige extended the window to begin construction from 60 days to two years, according to The Guardian. It means that protesters would have to continue on until September 2021 to stop TMT from being built.

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Source: Business Insider, The Guardian