An Open Letter from the Observatories of Mauna Kea

The observatories that call Mauna Kea home have written an open letter to the community expressing our position on the ongoing events in our local community…

Aloha to our scientific colleagues around the world,

On behalf of the more than 500 people employed by the Maunakea Observatories, we offer a perspective about the Maunakea situation with the sincere hope that our words encourage greater understanding of the complex circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Staff members of the Maunakea Observatories, many of whom are born and raised in Hawaiʻi, feel a deep and personal connection to the special people and place of our Hawai‘i Island home. We live and work together in a community where our success is measured by the quality of our relationships, one of the paramount reasons life here is enriching, rewarding and inspiring. Even in conflict, our differences don’t define us; our humble, reverent appreciation of our community does. The diverse mix of scientists, technicians, engineers, administrators, and students of the Maunakea Observatories continually seek a path forward that strengthens the future of our island community. Our local staff, family members, and friends have a wide range of views and strong feelings about the events that surround us. We deeply respect all these viewpoints, which come from our family and friends, and we both believe and champion their right to express them.

In our community, we are weathering the pain of rifts in these carefully tended relationships that will take mutual respect and time to heal. We know these challenges across our island home have gained attention with our peers in the international astronomy community. We understand your expressed concerns. We also urge your appreciation of the nuances and complexity of the issues we now face.

The future of Maunakea astronomy will be defined primarily by the diverse people of Hawaiʻi. The vast majority of island residents support the Maunakea Observatories, who have been part of this community for more than 50 years. Conflict about the Thirty Meter Telescope does not change the long-standing support our Observatories have earned, but it will undoubtedly influence its future. For the benefit of the people who work on the mountain, for those who practice their culture and religion on the mountain, we look to a future beyond coexistence because that still implies barriers. We look to a future in which knowledge and worldviews hybridize to create a reality more beautiful and resilient than its progenitors.

This is beginning already, through A Hua He Inoa, the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua, black hole Pōwehi, and the unusual asteroids recently officially named Kamo‘oalewa and Ka‘epaoka‘awela by Hawaiian students. We look to a future for Maunakea where studies of the universe are buoyed by the wisdom of Hawaiian kupuna and grounded in the richness of Hawaiian culture. We are nurturing this future now as devoted members of the Hawaiʻi Island and international astronomy communities. We ask for the informed understanding and support of our international astronomy community to uphold this vision, which we believe will be an important part of everyone’s future.


Director Doug Simons, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
Director Pierre Martin, Hoku Kea Observatory
Director Jennifer Lotz, Gemini Observatory
Director Paul Ho, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (East Asian Observatory)
Interim Director Robert McLaren, Institute for Astronomy
Director John Rayner, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility
Director Michitoshi Yoshida, Subaru Telescope
Director Klaus Hodapp, UKIRT
Director Hilton Lewis, W.M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II)

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

12 thoughts on “An Open Letter from the Observatories of Mauna Kea”

    1. 2007 survey of Hawaii Island observatories’ technical and administrative staff
      27% born and raised on Hawaii Island
      33% living in the state when hired
      40% hired from overseas locations
      73% not born on Hawaii Island


      1. Yes those are the percentages. Let us take those same numbers and look at them in the way you are implying…

        – A third of observatory staff were born and raised on this island, this rather shows the claim that islanders do not get observatory jobs to be a myth.
        – 40% hired from overseas, this is less than half. This means that the observatories do fulfill their promise to hire locally when they can.
        – 33% living in the state when hired. This includes folks who grew up on other islands, who very much count as local.

        Looks like the letter is completely correct in its claims.

  1. If the “vast majority” of people in Hawaii support TMT (this was never held to a public referendum., so I’m unsure where you gathered this data) why are they not on the mountain showing their support for it? I think you’re confusing passivity with “support”. As a non-native and as a UH graduate, I don’t understand why the factions in power can’t heed the word of the people this telescope construction affects, realize that it’s highly unpopular and move it to the Canary Islands. The stewardship of Mauna Kea has been mismanaged for decades, and though this is not the fault per se of the parties motivated to construct the telescope, they need to take local needs and wishes into account. The telescope doesn’t belong here, period.

    1. The data comes from professional poll data that surveys residents of Hawaii. Given proper random sampling, good statistical control, the result of 75% is probably correct to within a few percent.

      As to why supporters are not out on the mauna or more visible in the press? A few reasons, right now the media seems to be interviewing opponents, they just make better headlines. The interviews of supporters we know of seem to go un-aired in major media. Quite a few local and even native Hawaiians have expressed support, including a couple friends of mine. What they encounter in social media and online is not pretty, a lot of insults and abuse. Lastly, showing up to argue with a lot of obviously very emotional people just seems like a bad idea to most.

      1. Andrew,

        First of all, what “professional poll” are you talking about? Until you can prove otherwise, I’m going to assume that it is a poll that was backed by TNTers themselves. And even if it is a legit poll (again, highly doubtful), then 75% is not the “vast majority.”

        Second of all, please stop referring to the Mauna Kea supporters as “opponents.” We support the mauna, and you support the building of a 14th telescope on top of it. If you don’t want the media presence, then maybe you need to start seeing us as coworkers with a voice worthy of being heard.

        Aloha from an emotional person,

        1. The polls in question were commissioned by the Honolulu Star Advertiser, performed by professional polling firms using proper random sampling procedures. Over the years several polls have been done, they show a clear trend towards more support and a large majority if support both island wide and in the Native Hawaiian community.

    2. Because they live in fear of violence and property vandalism, so they stay quiet. Like they stay quiet about the widespread domestic violence, rampant, racism, animal cruelties and the rest which is part of life on the Big Island.

  2. Those residents who want the telescope on the mountain, be they non Hawaiians or native Hawaiians, are not connecting to the Hawaiian culture and its deep reverence for Mauna Kea. If they don’t value the sacredness of the mountain, then I suppose they wouldn’t see a problem with its desecration.

  3. Aloha, Andrew. You talk about a world that moves beyond coexistence, but in order to do so we need to have coexistence in the first place. And we don’t. Because if we did, you would be willing to hear the ancient teachings of the elders that predate your work as a scientist. I hope you can find a way to incorporate your work in modern science with the work of messy and emotional kapuna.

    1. Dear Claire,

      The mountain is ancient, the myths surrounding it, legends about it and religious significance of it are not. Humans have only recently arrived to ascribe these attributes to Mauna Kea. You don’t speak for the mountain, you speak for yourself. You say you hope Andrew can find a way to incorporate his work in modern science with the work of messy and emotional kupuna but if he and other workers involved in the quest for knowledge are prevented from doing so, then what are you accomplishing? The legacy you would leave to the future is that somewhere in the world must be the backwater of science and education and that it might as well be Hawaii. While you are reverencing the mountain, Andrew and his colleagues are connecting to a larger and, if not more, then an at least equally sacred entity, that of the Universe. When I think of The Eye of God and The Pillars of Creation and many other names given to star formations and other miracles brought closer to us by astronomers, the word Spiritual comes to mind. By limiting your vision, you limit your ability to see the Universe as a whole, in which we are all connected.

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