The Big Islands Telescopes

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A brief history of the Big Island's many telescopes.

• General: Educational • General: Guide
• General: History

Matt Anderson's Take
Since the beginning of time, human beings have looked to the sky and done a little stargazing. Staring up into the night's sky can fill a person with an all encompassing sense of awe, and can help them rediscover their sense of perspective. It's only natural to wonder what's out there and how the planet earth fits in. Is there a god or many gods? Other intelligent life? Nothing but vast emptiness? A flying spaghetti monster?

Those who enjoy stargazing will find no better place to do so than Hawaii's Big Island. With powerful telescopes and a mountain that offers a brilliant view of the night's sky, the island is in a league of its own when it comes to getting a glimpse of the astronomical.

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea was built for viewing the heavens. While it's a naturally occurring landmark, it seems like it's been designed by mankind for the sole purpose of looking up into the sky.

Up on the mountain's summit sit the JCMT and CSO telescopes, some of the most powerful in existence. These telescopes are held in locally run observatories and are available for the public to use. Tours even take people up to the summit of Mauna Kea (which is 13,000 feet above sea level) to the Mauna Kea Observatories.

Of course, you're also free to travel up to the top alone, where volunteer astronomers will wait to teach you more about the equipment and what you'll be seeing. Either way, if you want to see the stars be sure to read more about the Mauna Kea Star Gazing Program.

Twelve Telescopes At The Summit

There are a total of 12 different telescopes located at the top of Mauna Kea. Several countries and universities have sponsored telescopes found at the summit, which have been named appropriately after them.

The Canada France telescope, the United Kingdom Infrared telescope, and the University of Hawaii telescope are all examples of these. The rest are sponsored by other government organizations from around the world, but all remain within the Mauna Kea Observatories.

One New Telescope And One Proposed Telescope

In addition to the 12 Hawaii telescopes already located on Mauna Kea, two new telescopes have recently been proposed. One, The Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, has already been confirmed but is having a lot of local resistance. The second, the Pan-STARRS telescope is still in the planning and development stage, and is not yet a certainty to be installed.

The Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea is set to be 18-stories tall, and offer some of the best views of the night's sky in the world. The $1.4 billion project will be the planet's largest telescope when it's finished, something astronomers are extremely excited about.


Despite the telescopes offering unbelievable views, not everybody is happy to have them on the island. A group of natives has expressed concern, saying the mountaintop is a sacred place, and shouldn't be the home of an ever-expanding collection of telescopes.

Work on The Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea was halted for one week in April of 2015, while natives chanted and said prayers at the foot of the mountain. After a week of negotiations however, developers assured the local group that no religious traditions were being disrespected by the inclusion of a new giant telescope. The telescope is on course to be finished sometime in 2020, unless further disruptions take place.
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Matt Anderson
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Joined: Apr 2016
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This sounds so interesting ! I would love to go there this year . I think that it would be so cool to be able to look at the stars through those powerful telescopes. We might just have to take a day and night and go up there and look things over.
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