A giant telescope planned for Hawaii’s tallest mountain will enhance humanity’s knowledge of the universe and bring quality, high-paying jobs, supporters said Thursday, as protesters blocked construction for a second week.
An international consortium plans to build the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope at the top of Mauna Kea, which some Native Hawaiians believe is sacred. The Hawaii Supreme Court last year ruled the project had a valid permit, clearing the way for construction to begin after a decadelong battle.
Opponents of the telescope have gotten more attention than supporters as they have blocked a road for 11 days to prevent construction crews from starting their work. The protesters say building another telescope on a peak that already has 13 observatories will further desecrate the mountain on the Big Island.
Last weekend, 2,000 people joined the protest camp. Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson visited the protesters this week to declare he stood with them.
But supporters also are impassioned about why they believe the telescope belongs on Mauna Kea, which has the best conditions for viewing the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere.
The telescope is expected to allow astronomers to peer back some 13 billion years in time to shortly after the Big Bang. It’s expected to help astronomers determine whether life exists on planets outside the solar system and better understand fundamental concepts like gravity.
Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a Native Hawaiian expert in the traditional art of using the stars, weather and birds to navigate the seas, said astronomy advances human knowledge.
“I’ve heard the comment that the protesters want to be on the right side of history. I want to be on the right side of humanity. I want to be on the right side of enlightenment,” Baybayan said.
He said people have to learn to share the mountain and there was more than enough space for everybody. Baybayan said he views the summit as a spiritual place but not a sacred one.