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Astronomy panel urges federal funding of Hawaiʻi telescope

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HILO, Hawaiʻi — An independent review of the state of astronomy and astrophysics in the U.S. has recommended federal funding of a giant telescope in Hawaiʻi.

The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey warned it could be “disastrous” for U.S. astronomy if the National Science Foundation does not invest in projects like the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Friday.

The report recommends the U.S. government fund several large astronomy projects.

“There’s a little bit of a feeling of astronomy going the way of physics,” said Doug Simons, director of the University of Hawaiʻi’s Institute for Astronomy.

He said the cancellation of a particle accelerator in Texas in 1993 resulted in the research moving to European facilities like the Large Hadron Collider.

“I think if … the Europeans were the only international organization that had this kind of research capacity, that really signals something kind of alarming in the U.S., which has historically had a leadership role in contemporary astronomy," Simons said.

But the report also highlights astronomy's problems with Indigenous people.

Some Native Hawaiians consider the proposed site for the giant telescope, on the Big Island's Mauna Kea, to be sacred.

“I wish they would have recognized that we have already spoken,” said Native Hawaiian activist Kealoha Pisciotta, who opposes the plan.

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