UH Astronomy Event Sparks Dialogue on TMT Project

Aug 31, 2019

Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea was a central focus at the Astronomy in Hawaii event at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Friday.

The Institute of Astronomy hosted an interactive booth in the university courtyard and a series of presentations for the public. The first half of the presentations largely covered astronomy's technical aspects, but by the end, the focus centered on the ongoing debate over TMT's construction.

Roy Gal, an associate astronomer and outreach coordinator for the Institute of Astronomy, conducted a presentation billed as debunking common TMT misconceptions.

“I do hope people heard some of the facts,” he says. “I hope people are also open to hearing what is the emotion and feeling that is coming from both sides of the issue.”

Some of those in opposition to the TMT came from a UH Board of Regents meeting to the event.

“Some friends reached out late last night to let us know that this event was going to be happening around the same time as the Board of Regents meeting so we thought it was necessary for all of us to at least come,” said Tiele Doudt, a Native Hawaiian Studies graduate student.

Doudt also hoped to hear from her peers.

“I was just here out of curiosity,” she says. “Also just to see and understand the students that are here and that are in support of the telescopes and just acquiring more information as to why.”

UH sophomore Matt Kingston, a molecular biology major, was on his way to buy some mango when the Astronomy in Hawaii booth caught his eye. There he had a brief conversation about the TMT project on Mauna Kea.

“I obviously want to see it get built,” he says. “I can also understand how sacred the island is so it’s definitely really tricky.”

One highlight of the event featured an open discussion about the connection between TMT and Hawaiian culture, which Gal thought was a productive conversation.

“I’m very positive about the conversation that’s happening now because I like seeing people engage in dialogue,” he says. “I wish many more people would have come to see that and engage with us, but I hope it’s a spark of what can happen in the community and help us move forward."