Day 10 TMT standoff: Astronomers on Mauna Kea share their beliefs on science and culture

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Day 10 of the TMT standoff begins with a renewed sense of hope on both sides following a visit to Mauna Kea by Governor Ige.

Ige arrived for the first time at the base of Mauna Kea on Tuesday, July 23.

He met with demonstrators for about 45 minutes and was treated with respect.

The governor has enlisted the help of Big Island Mayor Harry Kim on reaching reasonable goals moving forward.

“As far as him being here, I’m glad he can see what is here. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The behavior has been good. These guys are very respectful and I’m glad he’s here,” says Kim.

Part of the agreement that was made to build the Thirty Meter Telescope included decommissioning five of the telescopes already there.

Two are already undergoing that process.

Jenn Boneza met with astronomers from Mauna Kea observatories to find what that means and how they view the relationship between science and culture.

KHON2 learned the decommissioning process has always been part of the plan for all of the telescopes on Mauna Kea.

Although their timelines maybe different for each one of them.

But since this has never been done before, there is a learning curve.

It could possibly take years for the sites to return to their original state if that’s even possible.

Of the 13 white and metallic domed telescopes atop Mauna Kea, five are identified for decommissioning as part of the TMT contract.

Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (or CSO #9) and the UH Hoku Kea telescope are the first two on that list.

They are already in the process.

But it’s much more complicated than it sounds because it has never been done before.

“It’s a lot of consultation,” said director of Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Doug Simons. “A lot of details that have to be worked out, and we’re trying to get it right the first time.”

Simons says removing the buildings themselves isn’t the hard part.

It’s the permitting that takes time.

The third telescope identified for decommissioning is the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope also called UKIRT.

Simons says he’s particularly sad to see that one go because its one of the scientifically significant telescopes in the world.

It was chosen as one of the five because it belongs to UH, and that was part of the deal.

“The reality is that the other telescopes are operated under subleases,” said Simmons. “We have commitments through 2033 to operate them under the master lease.”

While the telescopes contribute groundbreaking research they are all currently offline.

For the past eight days Mauna Kea observatories have been closed due to safety concerns regarding the ongoing demonstrations at the base of Mauna Kea.

“We’ve never collectively decided to go into hibernation like we have now, and we are eager to get back into the swing of things,” Simons said.

Tuesday during a visit to the Puu Honua O Puu Huluhulu, Gov. David Ige and Mayor Harry Kim spoke a great deal about finding a way to work together to move forward.

When they talk about finding common ground there’s been one place that’s played an active role in that conversation.

“We are about exploring that space between cultural indigenous wisdom together with moderns scientific pursuit,” said Kaiu Kimura, executive director Imiloa Astronomy Center.

No doubt the link between the Hawaiian culture, and the study of the stars has a very long history.

On Mauna Kea both sides coming to an understanding that they each can live with has yet to take place.

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