Telescope plans to shut down early on Mauna Kea

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Since 1987, scientists from across the globe have used the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory to study space. But in April 2009, Caltech announced it would begin dismantling the observatory in 2016 and returning the site to its natural state by 2018.

On Thursday, Caltech announced it would be shutting down the telescope even sooner.

“And essentially, we came to the point where we no longer have sufficient funds to operate the telescope after September. And so if we don’t have money to operate the telescope, then we have to close the telescope,” said Simon Radford, technical operations manager of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory.

Radford says he’s sad to see the telescope go. But he says he’s thankful for what he and other researchers have been able to accomplish during this time.

“Caltech and all of us are grateful to the University of Hawaii, the state of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii for being able to put a telescope on Mauna Kea because it has allowed us to do scientific work that is not possible at any other location,” said Radford.

Caltech’s announcement comes just days after Governor Ige’s message to the University of Hawaii to reduce the number of telescopes on Mauna Kea.

“The university must decommission as many telescopes as possible,” said Gov. Ige during a press conference on Tuesday. “And at least 25 percent of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation.”

A Native Hawaiian activist we spoke to says he’s pleased with Caltech’s announcement and believes it’s a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a good indication that some momentum is happening and some progress is being made. And we’re gonna keep pushing. And we’re pretty solid in our position that there will be no TMT telescope built on that mountain. And that we want all of those telescopes off of that mountain,” said Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist.

There’s still no word yet on when construction for the TMT will resume on Mauna Kea.

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