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2022 Student Journalism Award, Portfolio: Student winner

Aloha ʻāina

About the Project

It would be unlike any telescope ever built before.

At 30 meters in diameter, this telescope would be three times as wide as the current largest visible-light telescope in the world, allowing astronomers to see deeper into space at a resolution twelve times sharper than that from the Hubble Space Telescope. These prospects have helped astronomers to attain funds and public support.

But not everyone shares the enthusiasm of the scientific community. Native Hawaiians have been protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope due to astronomers’ plans to build it on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is regarded as a sacred place in Native Hawaiian culture.

After years of altercation in court, Hawai’i Gov. David Ige announced that construction of the telescope would begin in July 2019. But it never happened.

Protesters, who self-identify as protectors, hindered construction by camping out en masse on Mauna Kea Access Road, preventing the trucks and equipment from reaching the construction site. The telescope would have been built by now had the road been clear, and the narrative is far from over. Native Hawaiians are continuing to resist TMT, as the possibility of its development on Mauna Kea still dwells.

Aloha ʻāina is the culmination of Kate Brennan’s reporting for more than a year and a half that included a 2021 visit to Mauna Kea and interviews with several telescope proponents as well as Native Hawaiians. The debate still continues as to how to make TMT a reality, and to this day, the mountain’s fate is unknown.