The Thirty Meter Telescope On Mauna Kea

Everything you need to know about the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) for the Big Island of Hawaii.

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• General: Educational • General: Legends / Mythology

Matt Anderson's Take
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) once constructed will have 10 times the power and potency compared to existing telescopes on Mauna Kea (see The Big Islands Telescopes for more on those). Astronomers will be able to study the faintest galaxies and farthest reaches of the visible universe. The project will cost a approximately $1.4-billion and is due for completion by 2024. However, construction was halted in early 2015 because of protest from indigenous Hawaiians and locals because of the choice of its location. The massive telescope will be situated on Mauna Kea, one of the most sacred and spiritual sites in Hawaii and home of hundreds of ancestral shrines for generations.

What Mauna Kea Means To Hawaiians


Mauna Kea is believed to be the origination point of the Hawaiian Islands. Mauna Kea is also the ancestral home for deities and indigenous Hawaiians where the ancient tradition of burying umbilical cords on the mountain is still practiced as a way of communicating with their ancestors. Indigenes have worshiped, built shrines, and buried their ancestors on Mauna Kea for generations. It was once a place only visited by high chiefs for important rituals and ceremonies.

Legend says that Mauna Kea is in the realm of the Akua-Creator, the temple of the Supreme Being, the home of the gods and the celestial deities, and the meeting spot of Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father) - the ancestors of the Hawaiian people. Mauna Kea contains almost one hundred archaeological locales with several traditional properties qualified for posting in the National Register of Historic Places. As you can see, this is far more than just another mountain to the Hawaiian people.

Why Hawaiians Are Against TMT


Thirty Meter Telescope protesters are not really against the project itself but against the choice of location to be used for its construction. There was thought to be insensitivity in the way the project was handled when communicating with locals. The telescope will be huge - over 18 stories high with a mirror that spans 100 feet across.

Mauna Kea represents sacredness of ancestral roots. The installation of the telescope is perceived to desecrate the values, traditions, and cultures of the Hawaiian community. During initial construction, several historic sites and Hawaiian family shrines have been defiled or damaged. NASA, however, has presented research showing that the current telescopes on Mauna Kea have minimal negative environmental impact on Mauna Kea's cultural and biological resources.


Hawaiian protesters have taken to social media to organize peaceful demonstrations to drive home the point. Protesters blocked the access road at the site's groundbreaking ceremony in October, 2014. Using the hashtag #WeAreMaunaKea, celebrities have helped take the protest viral. Some have joined in writing "We Are Mauna Kea" on their bodies and posting pictures on Facebook, asking friends to sign a Change.org petition. About 40,000 people have signed the petition to Gov. David Ige to "stop TMT construction and arrests of Mauna Kea protectors".

By the beginning of April 2015, thousands of protesters have rallied across the Hawaiian Islands and more than 30 people were arrested at the Mauna Kea summit. Several students came together to build an ahu, or shrine, out of stones. A University of Hawaii at Manoa spokesman said the university respects the demonstration and will not remove the ahu.


NASA and the universities that have sponsored the construction of the telescope are experiencing a PR nightmare. The advances in the astronomy from the Thirty Meter Telescope must to be balanced with the sensitivities of the Hawaiian sacred ground. The crisp clean air above Mauna Kea is an ideal location to build one of the world's greatest telescopes but clearly there is some negotiating to be done so both sides can get what they want. Read more on The Big Islands Telescopes.
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