Colliding Cosmologies: Cultural Conflicts and the Future of Astronomy on Mauna Kea

Physics & Astronomy Colloquium by ICE Fellow Salman Hameed

Wilder Hall, Room 104

Clouds of controversy surround the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Astronomers know Mauna Kea as home to world-class observational facilities, such as the W.M. Keck Observatory and Subaru telescope, its clear skies and unobstructed views virtually unmatched by any other site in the world. Not surprisingly, Mauna Kea has been picked as the site for the new Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which will be the largest optical telescope on the planet. However, Native Hawaiians view the mountain as sacred space, an anchor for Hawaiian identity. Many Native Hawaiians oppose new construction as a continued desecration of the mountain. Mauna Kea also hosts a sensitive alpine environment that serves as a fragile home to potentially endangered species, such as the wekiu bug. For these reasons, the future of astronomy on the mountain is in doubt. The tension between these groups has been building for some time, but recent events reveal the seriousness and intensity of the conflict as well as the challenges associated with the delicate business of crafting policies that respect divergent worldviews. ICE Fellow Salman Hameed will present an analysis of the conflict and place it in the larger context of contemporary cultural, and science & religion, debates.