Monday, August 19, 2019

More Telescope: 2 Items

Facts vs. myths: Debunking oft-cited claims abut TMT

Michael Brestovansky, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, August 18, 2019

Some opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope is being fueled by prominent people — celebrities, musicians and politicians — who have offered their support to the Maunakea “protectors” via social media.

However, as opposing voices gain traction online, so do several misconceptions or untruths about the TMT project itself, making it hard for those unfamiliar with the issue to sort fact from fiction. Here is a collection of some of the myths versus the facts about the telescope.

Myth: Dynamite will be used to prepare the TMT site for construction.

“We will not be using dynamite in the construction of TMT at all,” said Sandra Dawson, TMT’s manager of Hawaii community affairs. The use of blasting was decided against in the early planning phases out of concerns that it would seem offensive, although Dawson admitted the construction process will consequently be slower.

Myth: There remain culturally significant architectural sites or protected species at the TMT location.

Extensive environmental impact studies have identified no such areas on the five-acre site, Dawson said. The nearest site of cultural significance is located 200 yards away from the TMT location; Dawson said one of the first actions of the construction team will be to visibly cordon off that site so that there is no chance that it could be destroyed accidentally.

Similarly, the wekiu bug — an insect endemic to the region that is often considered threatened by the present development of the summit — nests in cinder cones that are not close to the TMT site and will not be disturbed during construction.

Myth: The construction process will feature extensive drilling, potentially thousands of feet downward.

Dawson said this misconception might have been fueled by a core-sample drilling survey performed four years ago in order to determine whether the TMT site is safe to build upon. Beyond this, Dawson said there will be no drilling beyond the excavation necessary to set the TMT foundation.

Myth: The telescope will draw water from nearby Lake Waiau, considered a spiritual place.

Dawson said fears about the summit observatories draining Lake Waiau have been common over the years, particularly several years ago when the lake shrank during a drought. Because the lake is fed only by rainwater, it would be unfeasible to use water from the lake at all, even if the lake were not more than a mile away from the site. Instead, TMT will rely on water transported to the site from elsewhere on the island, like the other observatories.

Myth: Contaminants from TMT — whether from construction or the observatory itself — will leach into the island’s groundwater.

Don Thomas, geochemist and director for the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes at the University of Hawaii Manoa Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, has previously said water infiltration from the summit would take more than 2,000 years to reach sea level, if it reaches sea level at all.

Dawson added that the construction process will be “by far the most careful construction project seen on Hawaii Island.” Oil pans will be placed under all construction vehicles at the summit and will be diligently checked and emptied, Dawson said and “there are no contaminants that haven’t been addressed.”

Gordon Squires, TMT’s vice president of external relations, added that mercury will not be used at TMT, and the observatory also will forbid use of any mirror-cleaning substance that is too caustic.

All wastewater will be transported down the mountain, not disposed of at the summit.

Myth: There are military applications for TMT, such as identifying and targeting foreign satellites or missiles.

None of the Maunakea observatories, Squires said, are suited for observing such near-Earth objects.

“These telescopes move slowly,” Squires said. “If we wanted to point TMT at an incoming missile, by the time we were pointed at it, it would be gone, it would be too late.”

Myth: TMT will be powered by a nuclear reactor.

Dawson said TMT will draw power from the island’s grid, provided by HELCO. The specific power-drain requirements have evolved over the years as technology becomes more energy-efficient.

Myth: TMT will be rendered obsolete by other telescopes elsewhere, or else does nothing that existing observatories cannot already do.

“We have 13 observatories on the mountain right now,” Squires said. “And they’re all involved in frontier studies, cutting-edge science. Pretty much every week, the Maunakea observatories discover something new. And some of them are 50 years old, so they don’t just become obsolete after a few years.”

Furthermore, the 30-meter mirror array that gives TMT its name allows for sharper images than any other telescope at Maunakea summit.

Myth: Couldn’t TMT be built in space, like the Hubble Space Telescope, to circumvent both the Maunakea controversy and any distortions caused by Earth’s atmosphere?

The Hubble’s mirror assembly is less than 3 meters wide, Squires said, with the full space telescope only 4 meters wide. TMT’s mirror array is 10 times the width of Hubble’s; Squires said no country currently has the capability to launch a telescope of TMT’s size into space, and likely will not in the lifetimes of anyone currently alive.

Myth: The jobs that TMT will bring to the island will largely be for haoles (Caucasians) with advanced science degrees.

Official TMT estimates indicate that the observatory will require about 140 full-time positions, 20% of which will be science positions.

Most of the positions — 40% — will be technical and engineering jobs, with software and IT jobs making up another 10%. Dawson said Maunakea observatories prefer to hire and train kama‘aina for these positions, as approximately 50% of mainland hires tend to seek new jobs off-island after two years.

Meanwhile, the construction process will employ 300 local and specialized construction jobs. Dawson said TMT signed a memorandum to hire union labor and pay union wages for the construction.

Myth: The TMT project does not have the $1.4 billion or more estimated to construct the project.

Squires said the existing TMT partners — the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, India’s Department of Science and Technology, Canada’s National Research Council, the University of California and the California Institute of Technology — have made a commitment to build the telescope, while opportunities remain open for additional partners to sign onto the project. The four governments among the partners jointly represent about half the planet’s population, “so they should be good for store credit,” Squires said.

Myth: The primary purpose of the telescope is to seek out a new planet for humanity to live on after Earth is ravaged by climate change, pollution and war.

“There are many people in the astronomy community who are worried about planetary defense,” Squires said, conceding that discovering potentially habitable planets is a possible use of TMT. However, there will be other applications for TMT as well, while the construction of TMT will not mean that other efforts to combat the ecological degradation of the planet will end or be fruitless.

UCLA’s involvement in Thirty Meter Telescope prompts protest from student groups

Kalysa To, August 18, 2019, Daily Bruin

UCLA students and faculty remain divided over the University of California’s involvement in the development of a massive telescope in Hawaii, as construction continues to be delayed by protesters for a sixth week.

The Thirty Meter Telescope would allow researchers to look into space at greater distances and higher resolution than before. However, it is set to be built on the summit of Mauna Kea, a sacred site in Native Hawaiian culture.

Earlier protests occurred after ground was broken for the TMT in 2014 and 2015. However, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the construction of the TMT was valid in October, and construction was scheduled to begin July 15, leading activists to begin protesting again July 13.

The UC helped found in 2014 the TMT International Observatory LLC, the nonprofit spearheading the telescope’s construction, and currently has representatives serving on TMT International Observatory’s Workforce, Education, Public Outreach and Communications board and its Board of Governors.

Randall Akee, an assistant professor of public policy and American Indian studies who traveled to Mauna Kea earlier this month, said those advocating against TMT are currently at the access road to the summit of Mauna Kea, denying construction equipment access to the mountain.

He said that, during the first week of their activism in July, several native Hawaiian elders were arrested, which had some effect in changing public sentiment about the construction of the TMT. No further arrests have been made since then.

He said he thinks the issue with the TMT is not about legal ownership of land, but about the ethical and cultural issues of continued desecration, destruction and environmental degradation of the sacred mountain.

Uriah Blackwell, a member of UCLA’s Pacific Islands’ Student Association and a rising fourth-year African American studies and environmental science student, said he thinks the lack of cooperation from the government has created a tense situation.

“(The) native people of Hawaii … have not really had a fair representation in their say of whether or not the telescope should be put there or not, considering that Mauna Kea is the most sacred place to all Native Hawaiians,” Blackwell said. “It’s considered the first place of aloha, the home of … the god of all gods, … so it’s safe to say that Mauna Kea has probably the most art and culture than any other landmark in the entire island.”

Blackwell said that, during the 2018-2019 academic school year, UCLA PISA was involved with activism efforts to raise awareness about the construction of the TMT.

UCLA PISA held a town hall in February and invited local Hawaiian leaders to discuss their opinions on the telescope. Blackwell said the student organization received almost 5,000 signatures on a petition to demonstrate opposition to the TMT to the UC Board of Regents and held a public protest as well.

Blackwell said the reason he and UCLA PISA felt so strongly about protesting was because members felt the UC should not use student tuition to fund the telescope.

Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy, has been involved with the TMT project for the past 18 years. She said the project has tried to pay attention to the issues associated with its location on Mauna Kea by consulting with the communities to determine which area would be less sensitive and by investing in the education of the local community.

She said the people involved with TMT have tried to be good partners and members of the community by talking to students, giving research opportunities to native Hawaiians and giving high school students opportunities to design plans for the telescopes.

Ghez added she thinks moving the construction of the telescope to another location would be a loss to the state and the people of Hawaii.

“Astronomy is one of the few high tech industries on (the) island,” Ghez said. “It offers jobs that are not in the hotel industry, not in the tourism industry. It employs many kinds of people. (Without it, there would be) an economic loss for Hawaii.”

Tomasso Treu, a professor of physics and astronomy who is also the chair of the Science Advisory Committee of the TMT, said Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in Hawaii, was selected as the site of construction for the TMT because its height would allow for a sharper view.

“When you build a telescope that is supposed to be revolutionary and transformative, you also want to put it on a site that allows it to do the best science,” he said. “So scientifically, that is the reason we chose Mauna Kea.”

He added the construction of the TMT would be in a slightly less optimal area in an effort to be more conscious of the perspectives of the Hawaiian people.

“The plan is not to build the TMT on the very top of the mountain, but slightly off the top of the mountain because it minimizes the impact on the part of the mountain that is considered most sacred,” Treu said. “It minimizes its footprint and visibility from parts of the island.”

Gordon Squires, the vice president of external relations and astronomer for the TMT, said the site that has been selected for the construction of the TMT will not interfere with the culture of the Hawaiian people.

“The TMT site has no historical artifacts or burials, there (are no historical or) cultural practices done on or near the TMT site and cultural practices are not impeded in any way by TMT,” Squires said.

Squires also said the team involved with the TMT has made an effort to include the community in its decisions. He said the communities have asked astronomers not just to build the observatory there, but to make sure that there will be employment opportunities for them in the astronomy and technology sectors.

He added the telescope in Mauna Kea has been a catalyst for addressing issues outside the field of astronomy.

“The historical injustices that native Hawaiians have suffered for the last hundred years are being addressed,” Squires said. “The use of native Hawaiian homelands and how those are managed is an issue in Hawaii and that has become part of the conversation in Hawaii, as well as issues of self-determination and sovereignty. So it’s not a simple question really about TMT on Mauna Kea anymore. There’s a lot of bigger issues that are being discussed now.”

Blackwell said he will continue to hold town halls and collaborate with other universities to raise awareness about the TMT.

“We’re really not looking to give out hate or point the blame,” Blackwell said. “I think the main thing that we … are trying to show is we love our island, we love our mountain, we love everything about who we are and we just wish you guys would respect that love for ourselves and just kind of leave what’s sacred to us sacred.”


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