“First Telescope Dismantled from Disputed Astronomical Site on Hawaiian Volcano”

In a significant development in the ongoing controversy around the use of Mauna Kea, a Hawaiian volcano, for astronomical purposes, the first telescope has been removed from the site. Mauna Kea is a sacred site for native Hawaiians and has been the center of a dispute for many years due to its use as an international hub for astronomical observations.

The University of Hawaii, which manages the site, confirmed the removal of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO), one of the 13 telescopes situated on the mountain. The CSO was decommissioned in 2009, and the process of deconstruction began in 2016, with the final removal of the telescope’s dome occurring recently.

Mauna Kea offers ideal conditions for astronomical observation due to its high altitude, dry climate, and distance from city lights. However, its status as a sacred site for native Hawaiians has led to protests against the construction and operation of telescopes on the mountain. The controversy intensified in 2019, with protests against the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), one of the world’s largest telescopes.

The university has committed to removing five telescopes from Mauna Kea to reduce the impact on the sacred site. Apart from the CSO, plans are underway for the decommissioning of three more observatories – the Very Long Baseline Array antenna, the UKIRT Observatory, and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. The Hoku Kea telescope was dismantled in 2016, but the site has not been fully restored yet.

The removal of the CSO is seen as a significant step towards balancing the scientific use of Mauna Kea with respect for Hawaiian culture and traditions. However, the process is complex, involving not just the physical dismantling of the telescopes, but also the restoration of the site to its original state.

The university and the Department of Land and Natural Resources are working closely to ensure that the deconstruction and restoration process follows the best environmental practices. The final restoration plan for the CSO site will involve recontouring the land, replacing the topsoil, and replanting native species.

Despite this progress, the controversy around the use of Mauna Kea for astronomical observations is far from over. The future of the TMT project remains uncertain, with the ongoing legal battles and protests. However, the removal of the first telescope from the mountain is a significant milestone in the effort to strike a balance between the pursuit of scientific knowledge and respect for cultural heritage.

While the removal of the telescopes represents a victory for the protestors who have campaigned against the intrusion on the sacred mountain, it also underscores the challenges faced by the scientific community. The loss of Mauna Kea as an observation site will impact international astronomical research. Yet, it serves as a reminder of the need for a sensitive and respectful approach to the choice of sites for scientific exploration.

In conclusion, the removal of the first telescope from Mauna Kea marks a significant development in the ongoing controversy around the use of this sacred site for astronomical observations. It represents a step towards resolving the conflict between scientific pursuits and cultural respect, and sets a precedent for the decommissioning and restoration process of the other telescopes on the mountain. However, the future of astronomy on Mauna Kea remains uncertain, highlighting the need for ongoing dialogue and negotiation between all parties involved.


A 36-inch Hōkū Keʻa Telescope, managed by the University of Hawaii, has been fully decommissioned and removed from the Maunakea volcano in Hawaii, marking the first time a telescope has been dismantled from the site. This initiative is part of an agreement between the University of Hawaii and the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority to alleviate tension surrounding the proposed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the same mountain.

The Maunakea volcano, home to 13 telescopes since the 1960s, is considered a sacred place by the indigenous people of Hawaii as the meeting point of earth and sky. The construction of new telescopes on the mountain has been met with protests and considered sacrilegious. The astronomical community has faced challenges in balancing their scientific research plans with the cultural needs of indigenous Hawaiians.

The future of the TMT, set to be the world’s second-largest telescope, remains uncertain. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it could only fund either the TMT or the Giant Magellan Telescope scheduled for construction in Chile. A panel has been formed to decide which project the NSF should support.

To better cooperate with indigenous Hawaiians, the University of Hawaii transferred the management of the observatories to the newly established Maunakea Authority. As part of the transition and in hopes of securing a permit for the TMT, the University agreed to decommission three observatories on the mountain, starting with the Hōkū Keʻa Telescope.

The decommissioning followed a four-point plan that included notifying the intent to close the telescope, conducting environmental assessments, carefully deconstructing and removing the telescope and its infrastructure, and restoring the site to its original state. The area will be monitored for three years to assess the restoration’s impact on local wildlife. The decommissioning process cost $1 million.

The next telescope scheduled for removal is the larger Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO), which closed in 2015 after being replaced by newer instruments like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The removal of the CSO is estimated to cost $4 million. The third telescope to be taken down is the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, handed over to the University of Hawaii in 2014. Two more telescopes are expected to be removed by 2033 if the TMT project proceeds.



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