Was the real summit of Mauna Kea destroyed to make way for a telescope?

The idea that one of the existing telescopes sits on what was the real summit of Mauna Kea is persistent.

Mauna Kea Summit Alexander 1892
Mauna Kea summit as surveyed by W. D. Alexander in 1892

and NO there is NO RECTIFYING of the DAMAGES TO MAUNA KEA!!! Damnit man they sheered OFF the summit to INSERT the Kecks into The Pu’u that was the SUMMIT. What an ignorant thing to say!!!

Susan Rosier in a Facebook comment, 4 Aug 2019

While not a common claim this idea keeps popping up. It was even repeated by Kealoha Pisciotta under oath during the contested case. In her case she claimed it was the nearby summit ridge that was shaved off, and they “just moved the summit”.

The claim is an attempt to show that the telescopes have been very damaging to the summit and that those who built them completely disregarded the sacred sites atop Mauna Kea, destroying the true summit.

Summit Access
The sign asking for people to not hike to the true summit of Mauna Kea

This is simply not true, the true summit of Mauna Kea sits untouched and set aside for those who wish to visit or pule on the site. There is no road, only a trail to the site, you must park nearby and hike up the summit, a bit of a chore at nearly 14,000ft elevation.

This is a really easy claim to debunk. There are multiple surveys of the summit that took place. There are the 1892 Alexander maps, as well as multiple revisions of USGS topographic maps of the summit during the early 20th century before the road and telescopes were built. All of these show the summit of Mauna Kea right where it is today.

USGS quadrangle map of Mauna Kea from 1930
USGS quadrangle map of Mauna Kea from 1930

In 1892 the summit was surveyed by W.D. Alexander, the royal surveyor general working for King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani at the time. The first accurate survey of the summit region. In addition to excellent maps of the summit, he measured the height of the mauna with good accuracy using just a transit and skill.

The claim is also thoroughly debunked with the USGS topographic maps from 1930 and 1956, these excellent maps also show the real summit right where it is today, away from the existing telescopes.

Result: Completely False

Author: Andrew

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

One thought on “Was the real summit of Mauna Kea destroyed to make way for a telescope?”

  1. However, several observatories did grade over sacred pu’u in order to get just a few feet higher. See CSO decommissioning documents for the details.

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