23 December 2019

An Update on the TMT, Maunakea, and AAS 235

Latest update: 8 January 2020

As we prepare to gather in Honolulu in early January for the 235th AAS meeting, we know that attendees and others in our community are concerned about potential effects of the ongoing controversy over the observatories on Maunakea, including the planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

In an earlier post on our website, AAS President Megan Donahue (Michigan State University) explained that the controversy is about much more than the construction of a new telescope on a mountaintop that many Hawaiians consider sacred. It's also about the historical mistreatment of indigenous people, the islands' economy, and many other complex and interrelated issues.

Rather than shy away from the controversy, the AAS is taking the opportunity presented by our meeting in Honolulu to engage it directly, as described below. First, though, here is the latest news about what's happening on the ground in Hawai‘i.

Thirty Meter Telescope Statement

TMT LogoThe following is adapted from an announcement that appeared on the Thirty Meter Telescope website on 20 December:

"On Thursday, 19 December 2019, Hawai‘i Governor David Ige announced that the state will reduce its law enforcement personnel on Maunakea. Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim also announced that county police will withdraw from Maunakea. The Mauna Kea Access Road is now partially open to everyone, including hikers, hunters, visitors, cultural practitioners, astronomers, commercial tour operators, and stargazers.

"TMT is committed to finding a peaceful way forward on Maunakea for all. Gordon Squires, TMT's Vice-President for External Affairs, said, 'We are sensitive to the ongoing struggles of indigenous populations around the world, and we will continue to support conversations around TMT and the larger issues for which it has become a flashpoint. We are participating in private conversations with community leaders, but these conversations will take time.'"

Related News

Hawai‘i News Now:
"As State Withdraws Law Enforcement from Mauna Kea, Protesters Say They Won’t Follow"

Pacific Business News:
"Gov. Ige: TMT Protesters Have Until Dec. 26 to Leave Camp at Mauna Kea"

University of Hawai‘i News:
"UH President [David] Lassner on Latest Maunakea Developments"

New York Times:
"Will the United States Lose the Universe?"

Hawai‘i News Now (added 26 Dec. 2019):
"Deadline Arrives for TMT Protesters to Remove Structures at Mauna Kea"

Honolulu Civil Beat (added 27 Dec. 2019):
"Hawai‘i County, TMT Protesters Agree to Clear the Road to Mauna Kea"

Hawai‘i News Now (added 29 Dec. 2019):
"As Promised, TMT Protesters Move Tent Blocking Mauna Kea Access Road"

Honolulu Star-Advertiser (added 3 Jan. 2020):
"Thousands of Astronomers Are Gathering in Honolulu as TMT Discord Looms"

Hawaii News Now (added 4 Jan. 2020):
"Protests Expected as 3,000 Astronomers Gather for 'Super Bowl of Astronomy'"

Big Island Video News (added 6 Jan. 2020):
"Maunakea Looms Over American Astronomical Society Meeting"

Response from Maunakea Observatories

Maunakea Observatories LogoIn response to these developments, Doug Simons, Director of the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, said, "The Maunakea Observatories are grateful to the law enforcement officers who have worked around the clock with professionalism and commitment to maintain public safety these past months. With the reduction of law enforcement personnel, our normal operations will continue; we are grateful for the continued privilege of doing research on Maunakea."

What to Expect at AAS 235

AAS 235 Banner ImageAAS members and others in the astronomical community hold diverse opinions on Maunakea, the TMT, and the future of astronomy in Hawai‘i. We are providing many opportunities to discuss these issues in Honolulu, and consistent with our guide to meeting etiquette, anti-harassment policy, and code of ethics, all attendees are expected to behave professionally throughout the conference.

As noted in an email sent to registrants on 18 December, with the subject "Hawaiian Voices at AAS 235," the AAS will set up comments boards in the Exhibit Hall where you can share your thoughts, and there will be an area at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center booth (#1001) in the Exhibit Hall where you can have your questions answered by experts at the intersection of science and culture in Hawai‘i.

ʻImiloa Facilitated Discussions: Maunakea Conversations: ʻImiloa will also host a daily discussion that seeks to create “safe space” to be able to explore the multiple views and issues surrounding Maunakea through deep listening and interaction. These discussions will be held at the Reflective Space adjacent to ʻImiloa Astronomy Center's Exhibit Booth, 1:00 pm 2:30 pm daily from Sunday through Wednesday of the conference. The goals of these facilitated conversations will be to:

  • Create a safe, inclusive, equitable space for difficult conversations     
  • Nurture curiosity and provide context to Hawai‘i/Maunakea issues    
  • Identify a collective learning opportunity through sharing perspectives 
  • Question our assumptions
  • Deepen understanding and appreciation of diverse opinions

We've also prepared a 2-page Hawai‘i Visitors Guide (PDF) to provide some additional context, including perspectives from our colleagues local to Hawai‘i. Another excellent resource is the new book Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i, edited by Hōkūlani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (Duke University Press, November 2019).

In addition, our Vice-Presidents and the AAS staff have scheduled the following sessions and activities designed to help bring astronomers, Hawaiians, and others together to share perspectives and learn from each other. 

Read Event Descriptions and Bios of Participating Community Voices

Saturday, 4 January

12:30 – 4:00 pm, Room 306 AB
Workshop: Astronomy Communication and Science Engagement with Religious Publics

Sunday, 5 January

10:00 am – 11:30 am, Room 316 B
Special Session: Innovative Collaborations of Integrity with the Hawaiian Community

11:40 am – 12:30 pm, Ballroom AB
Plenary Lecture: He Lani Ko Luna, A Sky Above: In Losing the Sight of Land You Discover the Stars, Kala Baybayan Tanaka and Kālepa Baybayan (Polynesian Voyaging Society)

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Room 321 A
Astronomy Education in Hawai‘i

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Ala Moana Beach Park (map)
Public Event: Stargazing Party

Monday, 6 January

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Room 324
Special Session: The Many Facets of Hawai‘i Astronomy

3:40 pm – 4:30 pm, Ballroom AB
Plenary Lecture: The Stewardship of Maunakea's Legacy from the Perspective of the Hawaiian and Astronomical Communities, Amy Kalili (‘Ōiwi TV)

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm, Room 311
Public Talk: Physics of Pō, Larry Kimura (College of Hawaiian Language & Hawaiian Studies) and Doug Simons (Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope)

Tuesday, 7 January

10:00 am – 11:30 am, Room 306 AB
The US Extremely Large Telescope Program

11:30 am – 12:00 pm, Room 311
Local Student Education Outreach Event Welcome

12:00 pm – 2:00 pm, Exhibit Hall II/III
Local Student Education Outreach Event

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Room 324
Special Session: Astronomy and Culture — Best Practices for Systematic Transformation in an Increasingly Diverse and Interconnected Global Society

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Room 323 A
An Evening with the Maunakea Observatories

Wednesday, 8 January

10:00 am – 11:00 am, Room 316 A
Special Session: Hawaiian Perspectives

We look forward to welcoming all attendees to our 235th AAS meeting in Honolulu. Please stay in touch by following #AAS235 and @AAS_Office on Twitter, and see our Online Program Planner and mobile app for the latest program updates.

The AAS Meetings Team