From ABC: “A Look at the Science on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea”

ABC News bloc

ABC News

Aug 7, 2015
CALEB JONES, Associated Press

Atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, where some Native Hawaiians have been peacefully protesting the construction of what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes, astronomers have spent the last 40 years observing our universe and helping make some of the most significant discoveries in their field.

If the highly contested Thirty Meter Telescope {TMT] is constructed on the site, scientists say they will be able to explore more of the universe’s unsolved mysteries.

Proposed TMT

Many Native Hawaiians, however, consider the land sacred.

Looking back billions of years in time, astronomers on Mauna Kea continue to peer into the most distant reaches of our early universe, allowing them to see the time immediately following the cosmic dark ages and the big bang.

Here’s a look at what makes Mauna Kea such a valuable place for both science and the Hawaiian culture.


The 13 telescopes currently in place on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest point, have played major roles in discoveries considered among the most significant to astronomy.

Keck Observatory
Keck Observatory Interior
Keck Observatory

CFHT Telescope
CFHT nterior
Canada France Hawaii Telescope
Above, two of the most important science machines on Mauna Kea

While astronomers often use many different telescopes in locations around the world to draw their conclusions, Guenther Hasinger, director of Mauna Kea’s Institute for Astronomy, said “there is almost no major astronomical discovery where there was not very important input from the telescopes on Mauna Kea.”

Scientists at Mauna Kea have helped identify the presence of dark energy, discover a black hole in our galaxy and learn about potentially habitable planets in other solar systems, just to name a few.

“The fact that there are other planets out there at some point will change our perspective in a similar way, as the first picture of the Earth taken from the moon did,” said Hasinger. “We might be able to fly to them at some point.”

Mike Brown, an astronomer and professor at the California Institute of Technology, used Mauna Kea telescopes to help reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet.


In order to tap the full potential of the kind of telescopes being used on Mauna Kea and other similar sites, scientists say you must have a number of conditions present. First, the summit of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island, is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, above 50 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is very dark, nestled in the crater of a dormant volcano far away from any large cities that would create light pollution. The consistently warm ocean water that surrounds the island helps keep the atmosphere stable.

According to award-winning astronomer Andrea Ghez, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles who has published the most compelling proof of black holes to date, Mauna Kea is “the best place in the world to do astronomy.”

Andrea Ghez

“Being in the middle of the ocean is geographically perfect,” she said.

It also helps to be located somewhere with easy access to technology.

“Places that are not developed tend not to be near places that can support technological endeavors,” she said. “Hawaii is one of the few places where you hit all three, which is why everybody in the world wants to build their telescopes there.”

See the full article here.

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