Mauna Kea: Balancing Culture and Discovery

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Mauna Kea SunsetIf you haven’t been following the news about the 30-meter telescope being constructed on Mauna Kea, then you may not be aware of the protests from native Hawaiians who are concerned about the development of a spiritually sacred site.

Mauna Kea, Gemini ObservatoryThe most recent bit of news here concerns a DLNR rule that would restrict access to Mauna Kea to professional astronomers and construction workers only, due to the nuisance and problems caused by protestors. Honestly, the idea of no longer being able to go up Mauna Kea breaks my heart.
It was a trip to Hawaii back in 2010, and specifically an astronomy tour up Mauna Kea with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures that really rekindled by interest and enthusiasm for astronomy. Seeing the observatories, watching the sunset from the peak, and then driving down a few thousand feet to enjoy a sky tour was all a truly inspiring experience.

IMG_2189 Mauna Kea

Here’s a video I shot on that tour.


Now, Mauna Kea is considered a sacred site by many native Hawaiians. A vocal part of this group has determined that they won’t tolerate what they see as further desecration of the mountain by the construction and operation of new telescopes like the 30-meter telescope. I hope that this eventually results in a balanced approach to management of Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea

Having been there myself, and having been so inspired by the experience, I personally feel that the cultural heritage and development and operation of these observatories are complimentary. One does not devalue the other, but rather, they mutually enhance each other. I don’t view the observatories as destructive or disrespectful to Hawaiian culture and spirituality, even though they are built on this sacred site.


Think about what these observatories and the scientists and engineers and other support personal who operate these telescopes do: They look into the night sky, and look for answers to the most fundamental questions of humanity. These are not simple tourist destinations, marketing a beautiful view and selling mementos. These are tools of discovery looking into our origins as living beings in the Cosmos. They exist on Mauna Kea, because at 14,000 feet elevation, the peak is above an inversion layer, offering many clear nights above the densest part of the atmosphere. We seek to understand our place in the universe here, both scientifically, and spiritually. In this respect, I hope in my heart that all parties can put aside their differences, see their fellow’s perspective, and work together to ensure that Mauna Kea remains both a site of cultural heritage, and a living, breathing place of discovery and inspiration.

Mauna Kea

Have you been to Mauna Kea, or another observatory site that inspired you? Share you’re experience in the comments.

View the Album on Flickr:View my Mauna Kea Album

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