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Government Space Technology

How the Thirty Meter Telescope Ruling Will Impact Future Astronomy Projects (forbes.com) 251

StartsWithABang writes: If you want to explore the Universe, you need a telescope with good light gathering power, a high-quality camera to make the most out of each photon, and a superior observing location, complete with dark skies, clear nights, and still, high-altitude air. There are only a few places on Earth that have all of these qualities consistently, and perhaps the best one is atop Mauna Kea on Hawaii. Yet generations of wrongs have occurred to create the great telescope complex that's up there today, and astronomers continue to lease the land for far less than it's worth despite violating the original contract. That's astronomy as we know it so far, and perhaps the Mauna Kea protests signal a long awaited end to that.
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How the Thirty Meter Telescope Ruling Will Impact Future Astronomy Projects

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:21PM (#51091045)
    like the Second Coming or Santa Claus or something?
  • is not inside the atmosphere

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The best place for an optical telescope of that size is, unfortunately, still on the earth.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:51PM (#51091291)
      There's a cost trade-off between the expense of a launch, and the expense of building a bigger mirror. That is, for the same price, you can have a really big telescope on land, or a small telescope in space.

      Adaptive optics [wikipedia.org] have advanced enough that ground-based telescopes have surpassed Hubble in resolution [gizmag.com]. The drawbacks of AO are that it's limited in wavelength (different wavelengths get refracted by different amounts by the atmosphere, so you can't simultaneously correct for all of them), it only works for a narrow field of view (so you can't take majestic shots of the entire Orion nebula), and the atmosphere completely blocks certain wavelengths from even reaching the ground making space the ideal place for far infrared or ultraviolet astronomy. If those constraints don't affect the type of astronomy you plan to do with the telescope, then there's little point paying a lot more to launch it into space.
      • There's a cost trade-off between the expense of a launch, and the expense of building a bigger mirror. That is, for the same price, you can have a really big telescope on land, or a small telescope in space.

         

        what if there's an earthquake and all the mirrors atop mona kea break? and then earth loses situational awareness regarding ongoing activity in the universe? and aliens sneak up on us? what's the cost of that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:27PM (#51091095)

    Once again it boils down to how much money they're giving the natives. Not historical propriety, not ethics, nope. Just how much money the natives are getting.

    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:39PM (#51091191) Homepage Journal
      It is always money, as money is the proxy for value. It is naive to think that historical propriety or ethics do not have a value. Look at Keystone XL pipeline. A major issue was that the Canadian corporation was unwilling to give landowners what the landowners was fair value for the rights on their land. The Canadian corporation, then, went to the US courts and forced the land owners to accept what was considered by the landowners an unfair offer. Sure there were issues of ethics and risks and other stuff, but it was cash. If the landowners had been paid an amount to mitigate those concerns, real, potential, or imagined, then the pipeline would not have been held up in court and may have been approved and completed.
      • Value is in the mind of the beholder, and most people value the things they own more than other people do, which is a big part of why they still own them.

        If this is a shakedown for cash, I presume the cash will be making some people happy - whether or not you agree that their use of the cash is noble, just, or even sensible is just one perspective on the situation. Another perspective is that those politicians worked long and hard to get to their position of legal power, and if they represent their constit

    • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @05:08PM (#51091409)

      It isn't entirely about money. There's also the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement making noise here. Basically, there are people who think the Hawai'i should secede from the US and Hawaiian Kingdom should be re-established. This is an easy target to rally around to gather support. The beauty of it is they are wrong. If they win, they get to say 'Hey everyone look what we did!' If they (rightfully) lose, they get to claim oppression because they don't have racial control over land and use that to drum up further support.

      Personally, I think holding back science which benefits all of humanity for a financial payoff is a bit less unsavory that doing it for your own petty power struggles, but that's just my opinion.

      • Personally, I think holding back science which benefits all of humanity for a financial payoff is a bit less unsavory that doing it for your own petty power struggles, but that's just my opinion.

        which science is this? the type that happens in telescope buildings, or the kind that happens in medical laboratories? because that's the REAL benefit to humanity payoff right there.

        • Medicine, astronomy, Black-Scholes options pricing, which is the greatest advantage to humanity is all a matter of perspective.

          Astronomy is at a geographic disadvantage, needing to use one of a very limited number of attractive building sites - as such, they should recognize the supply-demand situation for what it is and be prepared to pay up in some way that the controllers of the land value.

      • Before they go down that road, they should ask the Confederacy how well secession turned out.

        The book was shut on states having the right to secede 150 years ago. They can't. Period.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          The Hawaiian people did not voluntarily join, they were invaded and conquered and then disenfranchised by a corporate take over, only guilt, forces you to lie. For what ever reason they choose, for what ever purpose they choose, it is their fucking right. So get off their fucking mountain, until they say you can be up, for what ever reason they choose as acceptable. Shit the US accepts extorting people with medicines that cost thousands of dollars, pay or die. Americans accept their country extorting other

          • Hawaii and Alaska are great tax burdens on the Continental United States and if they'd really like to be free, I am sure you can find lots of people in the Continental United States who would be willing to support that. Please get ready to do without the subsidies.

          • No. The Hawaiian people's unelected monarch got dollar signs for pupils and let in a ton of whites and Asians to run the sugar plantations. And then got an unpleasant surprise when said foreigners had the gall to expect something resembling civilized government and toppled the monarchy and instituted a democracy. And now the natives are free citizens of a free country with exactly the same rights as everyone else, and exactly the same responsibilities.
    • We should break out the sandwiches to watch this fight ....
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Once again it boils down to how much money they're giving the natives. Not historical propriety, not ethics, nope. Just how much money the natives are getting.

      Or it could be the common human impulse people who've been screwed have to stick it to anyone they can. Money comes into it because it's the only thing anyone might be willing to offer them. Nobody can go back in time and stop the planter takeover of the Kingdom of Hawaii; nor is anyone in any position to offer the Hawaiians sovereignty. Activists are against the telescope because it's something they can stop.

      And the backlash here shows the equally understandable impulse to impute nefarious motive to peopl

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:28PM (#51091101)

    . . . and tell him what these Hawaiian Terrorist are up to! Then they will be banned from entering the USA!

    Um, wait . . . OK, continental USA.

    But seriously:

    astronomers continue to lease the land for far less than it's worth

    It's not like the astronomers are building casinos with strippers there.

    What's the worth of discovering the secrets of the Cosmos?

    Priceless.

    • Yep, it isn't like people are lining up to pay for that land. It's cold, barren, with low oxygen. Worth is determined by what people will pay for it; if no one wanted gold, it would be worthless. It is true that the leases on the previous telescopes generated very little money (although I have no doubt they benefited the economy of the Big Island in other ways), and so if someone wanted to complain about that, they might have a case, but in the TMT's case they were going to pay quite a large sum for the

    • by N1AK ( 864906 )

      What's the worth of discovering the secrets of the Cosmos?

      Then shut up and give the natives what they are asking for it then if it is so incredibly valuable, or do you mean that as the discovery has value to other people it is ok to ignore the rights and desires of natives?

      Something is either ethical or it isn't. It doesn't become ethical to treat people poorly just because your motivation is science rather than profit. If the land really is worth bugger all to anyone else then offer them the $1 million

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:33PM (#51091137)

    > Yet generations of wrongs have occurred

    FFS. Give me a break. Sorry, I have no white guilt. Yes, I am privileged, and so are the people complaining about it.

    > astronomers continue to lease the land for far less than it's worth

    A difference of opinion (on "worth") makes a market. If the land was worth so much, then they should have charged more. But, now that the astronomers are there and have committed significant resources to the project, the lessor is trying to extort them for more. That's pretty scummy.

    > despite violating the original contract.

    Really? The terms of the lease have been breached by the lessee? That's a slam dunk then. Go to a court to get an order of repossession.

    Oh? You haven't or it hasnt worked? I guess it's not so cut-and-dried then.

  • Well I'm glad that's settled.

    Let's go burn down the observatory, so this'll never happen again!

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:41PM (#51091201) Homepage

    and perhaps the best one is atop Mauna Kea on Hawaii.

    Im certain that opinion holds some validity in Hawaii, but here in Branson my 30 meter telescope has been praised with such critical acclaim as "do you really need that thing? it blocks out the sun" and "for christ sake its 3 in the morning turn that crap off." the residents here are far more keen to my telescope than some rinky dink hawaiian sensation, thats for sure. In fact, the astronomers community that operates my telescope has released a finding in what scientists are calling "a goddamn fact" that research has concluded I'll be in the cold cold ground before it ever gets taken down, Jessica.

    • I really wish I had points to give you.
      The snark in that made me smile, but more importantly any bastion of science in Missouri needs to be supported.
  • by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:41PM (#51091209) Journal

    Give me one good alternative that same land could be used for and I'll believe this isn't a money grab.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Some things have "existence" value. For example it bothers me that climbers have turned Everest into a garbage dump, but at my age I have no intention of taking mountaineering. Or take the reaction people here had to the (incorrect) reports that a prototype NASA moon rover had been scrapped for metal. Did people have a "use" for that rover?

    • A place of silent meditation, that doesn't draw trucks and tour buses up and down the mountainside every day.

      • "Trucks and tour buses up a mountain every day". I take it you have little to no idea what actually goes on at these observatories based on that statement. They don't do tours of the observatories, people are working there, and small crews that stay there for weeks on end at that. The most famous of them, Mauna Kea allows people to come up to the grounds if they like, but again, no tours. And based on their warnings on their site I don't expect they get that many sightseers coming up:

        "At 14,000 feet, the

  • What is it worth? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:48PM (#51091265)

    This article is pretty off on some things.

    But there’s something else to consider: something that hasn’t been properly considered for, honestly, the entire history of the world. How do the native inhabitants of the land that the telescope is proposed to be built on feel about it?

    That's absolutely not true. That was considered, quite intensively. The TMT folks bent over backwards to make sure that the people who's nucleotides happen to include the certain chemical arrangement called Hawaiian were well consulted, cultural sensitivities taken into consideration, ect. They actually planned it to be built in an area somewhat not as good for viewing in order to minimize any potential impact on cultural practices on the summit. Until the popular bandwagon got rolling, most people were in support of it.

    While many in the media picked up one or two of the soundbites or demands and harped on them as ridiculous or backwards, the reality of the situation is this: a culture that’s many thousands of years old was — in the same imperialist spirit as much of the world — conquered and forced to live in a world they did not choose for themselves.

    Maybe thousands, though newer estimates put it at about 800 years IIRC, with previous inhabitants maybe getting killed off by the second wave of immigrants who are the ancestors of Hawaiians. Either way, no one gets to choose the world they were born into. Maybe I wanted to be a citizen of the British Empire, damned colonial rebels. If you have actual prejudice and present issues, that is a legitimate concern. Something that happened to your ancestors, even if it was wrong, not so much.

    Earlier this year, many Hawaiians protested the construction of this telescope, seeking to halt its construction until their concerns were addressed.

    Many of their concerns were either wrong (for example, that it would damage aquifers) or unprovable (that it would damage the 'spiritual waters' of the Mauna). What do you say about concerns like that? To be fair, mistakes were made in the past with other telescopes, so having concerns about keeping things right is absolutely justified, but that isn't the same as disregarding the environmental impact statement and spreading rumors.

    I don't get why people are bending over backwards to justify this. If Christian groups try to influence others, especially science, for their religious/cultural reasons, it is wrong. When, say, Switzerland banned minarets for their 'cultural' reasons, that was also wrong...for the Swiss to say 'You Muslims are of the wrong non-native race/culture so suck it up' is bullshit and everyone knows it. If I were to say that I hold claim to a certain plot of land simply because of my race, everyone would call me an asshole, and rightfully so. That Hawaiians suffered wrongs a century ago should be acknowledged, but it does not justify the same.

  • by kaplong! ( 688851 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @04:52PM (#51091295)
    While I'm agreeing that we should weigh the need for human scientific advancement against other cultural needs, we should be very careful before deciding to subjugate science infrastructure projects to stone age cultural beliefs. Just as we do not allow native Hawaiians anymore to club somebody to death just because they stepped on the shadow of their ruler, we shouldn't allow arbitrary cultural designations to decide on where science can be done. I hope we can all agree that we have now more enlightened ways of rulemaking.
    • Because a belief is traceable to a stone age culture, does that make it less, or more deserving of respect?

  • The only thing keeping the natives from having the correct attitude about this project; i.e. immense pride in having such an important instrument built on their land, is a small-minded primitive tribalism mixed with the entitlement and egotism of an idle dependent life. You don't correct that attitude with the courts, you use the national guard.

  • From the article [forbes.com];

    That doesn’t sound like opposition to me; that sounds like someone with legitimate concerns who wants to be heard.

    Others seem more opposed [kilakilahaleakala.org]:

    The National Science Foundation should not build this telescope on Haleakala summit.

  • Pay what they want or don't get the land. If they don't want to sell the land, move on. So what if it's the best place to put the telescope. It's their land!
    • Pay who? The Mauna Kea Science Reserve is held in trust by the state. It's not being sold by a private party; it's already being managed by the government.
  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @06:14PM (#51091835)

    Sorry, but we didn't realize that there was anything "colonialist" about science.

    If Hawaii had always been independent like Fiji, the kanaka*, or commoners, would still be under control of the ali'i, the hereditary nobility, who enforced their rule with an intricate series of prohibitions on the commoners. All of Maunakea above the treeline was under exclusive control of the ali'i. No kanaka could go there, ever. Overall, the kanaka had fewer rights than Russian peasants in the time of the tsars.

    So foreign astronomers come to the Big Island, and make a deal with the ali'i to build their telescopes. Some of the Kamehameha family were astronomical hobbyists, after all. I'm assuming that just as in our own history, the researchers would have to carefully avoid the altars and other sacred objects on the mountaintop, which is vast and gently sloped - Maunakea is more massive than the entire Rocky Mountains - and would be granted a concession on a small area near the summit.

    Astronomy on this independent Hawaii would be just like astronomy there today, except that the common people, and whatever foreign supporters they could muster, would have no input into the process whatever.

    * Please excuse my omission of the A-macron. The character set used here just swallows it.

    • I presume the present council derives its power from popular election, and that the people are supporting them - more or less, as in any democracy.

      That they make reference back to their traditions only shows that the people go in for that sort of thing, even today.

  • It's a shakedown (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2015 @06:21PM (#51091873)

    The protests are being held by liars who lie about the true multi-racial history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, in order to shakedown the government for money.

    Using Mauna Kea to study the heavens is a righteous use of land, and a sacred continuation of the Hawaiian culture, that used stars to navigate the seas for hundreds of years. Any who claim it is a desecration are racist pigs who believe that any indigenous culture must be defined only as it was originally seen by white people, instead of honoring the right of people of all ancestries to grow and change over time.

    The Kingdom of Hawaii was founded with a multi-racial coalition, was replaced by the internationally recognized Republic of Hawaii through internal means, and successfully sued for annexation in 1898 to the US. Insisting that one racial group, defined by a fractional drop of blood, should be able to dominate the decision making processes of the people of Hawaii is evil, and wrong.

  • From the article:

    The telescope is not dead; the legal proceedings happening today are, quite honestly, a failure of negotiations on both sides. The vast majority of people involved in this project want both for the telescope to be built and to have the native population of Hawaiians on board with how this land is used, how the inhabitants are treated, and how future projects are handled moving forward. As Kealoha Pisciotta, the president of the group purportedly opposing the telescope, Protect Mauna Kea (Mauna Kea Anaina Hou) says,

    "This is the principle of the mountain and the sanctity of Mauna Kea calls on us to raise the standard. We cannot be vengeful. We need to find pono [righteous] solutions. We need to find good things for astronomers. Cooperation is, I think, really the true part of our human nature, not competition. I think we have to go back to cooperation to survive the future."

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN

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