A telescope construction site in Hawaii has been evacuated following protests by Hawaiian natives who view the site as sacred.
Why are people protesting?
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was chosen as a location for these telescopes because it offers a view of space free from light pollution.
To native Hawaiians, however, this mountain is sacred. It has multiple ties to their ancient religion, including having a connection to multiple deities and containing ancient burial grounds.
Other telescopes have been constructed on Mauna Kea for decades, but these protests are focused around the construction of the new Thirty Meter Telescope worth roughly $1.4 billion. The telescope is expected to take images that are “12 times sharper than that of the Hubble Space Telescope.”
What happened now?
Protesters who think that the telescopes are a violation of the sacred mountain have blocked the main road going to the site. The governor of Hawaii stopped construction on this telescope in 2015, in response to the objections of locals, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled last year that construction should continue.
In a news release, Gov. David Ige (D-Hawaii) announced that construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope project would begin again on Monday.
Around 500 protesters on Monday stood their ground on the road leading to the construction site, with that number increasing throughout the week. On Wednesday, 33 protesters were temporarily arrested. Government officials have been trying to negotiate some sort of a deal with the protesters.
On Tuesday, the directors behind the new East Asian Observatory telescope evacuated all of their people from the site, abandoning millions of dollars worth of equipment. According to CNN, the other 13 observatories currently active on Mauna Kea have gone on hiatus.