50 years ago, Mauna Kea opened for astronomy. Controversy continues

Excerpt from the August 1, 1970 issue of Science News

Protest at Mauna Kea in 2019

Telescopes have topped Hawaii’s Mauna Kea for 50 years, but the site is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Protestors (shown here in July 2019) oppose the construction of a new observatory, the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Ronit Fahl/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Science News August 1, 1970 cover

Mauna Kea opened, Science News, August 1, 1970 —

The new Mauna Kea Observatory of the University of Hawaii has been completed and dedication ceremonies have been held. Standing at an altitude of 13,780 feet on the island of Hawaii, the new observatory is the highest in the world. Its major instrument is an 88-inch reflecting telescope that cost $3 million to build.


More than a dozen large telescopes now dot Mauna Kea, operated by a variety of organizations. Those telescopes have revolutionized astronomy, helping to reveal the accelerating expansion of the universe and evidence for the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But the telescopes have long sparked controversy, as the dormant volcano is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Since 2014, protests have flared in response to the attempted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Opponents have kept progress stalled by blocking the only access road to the site. Some scientists have spoken out against the telescope’s location. The Thirty Meter Telescope collaboration is considering the Canary Islands as a backup site.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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