Hawaii telescope project angers natives

A massive telescope is to be constructed on land considered sacred among Hawaiian native people.
A massive telescope is to be constructed on land considered sacred among Hawaiian native people.

Native Hawaiian groups have vowed to protect Hawaii's tallest mountain from an attempt to resume construction of a giant telescope.

Scientists hope the massive telescope they plan to build on top of Mauna Kea, a world-renowned location for astronomy, will help them peer back to the time to just after the Big Bang and answer fundamental questions about the universe.

But the site where they plan to build is considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians- a realm of gods and a place of worship and prayer.

State officials say anyone breaking the law will be arrested. .

The project has already been delayed by years of legal battles and demonstrations, drawing attention from the likes of "Aquaman" actor Jason Momoa, who has Native Hawaiian ancestry and has voiced opposition to the telescope.

Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony at the site in 2014. After that, the demonstrations intensified.

Construction stopped in April 2015 after protesters were arrested for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction a few months later ended with more arrests and crews pulling back.

But Hawaii's Supreme Court has ruled the construction is legal, permits are in place, and the state has given the company behind the telescope a green light to resume its efforts.

The company is made up of a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.

Today, the university leases the land at the summit from the state for existing telescopes and observatories on the summit. A road built for telescope access decades ago is used by thousands of tourists and locals each year, including Native Hawaiians who go there to pray.

Supporters of the $1.4 billion giant telescope say the cutting-edge instrument will not only make important scientific discoveries but bring educational and economic opportunities to Hawaii.

The telescope's primary mirror would measure 30 metres in diameter. It would be three times as wide as the world's largest existing visible-light telescope, with nine times more area.

Gov. David Ige said unarmed National Guard units will be used to transport personnel and supplies and enforce some road closures, but they will not be used in a law enforcement capacity during planned protests.

In a news conference Sunday, Ige said that he "respected the right of people to protest" at the telescope site as long as protesters behave lawfully.

Australian Associated Press