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Native Hawaiians are concerned by a new telescope slated for the big island


One of the best places in the world to see stars is Mauna Kea. It's a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Doug Simons is an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

DOUG SIMONS: You add it all up and Mauna Kea is arguably No. 1 in the world as a site for locating telescopes.


There are currently 13 observatories on the summit with plans for a 14th. That one would be one of the world's biggest telescopes, but that poses a problem. Some native Hawaiians believe Mauna Kea is sacred.

NOE NOE WONG-WILSON: Mauna Kea is the place where the earth mother - or Papa - meets sky father, Wakea. And so all life begins at that point.

MARTINEZ: That's Noe Noe Wong-Wilson. She leads a native Hawaiian group that has major reservations with the new telescope.

WONG-WILSON: And no matter what our plea was to consider the overall impact of all of this development, the decisions just never went our way.

FADEL: But changes are on the way. A new state law will transfer authority to a new group, which includes native Hawaiians. For more than 50 years, the University of Hawaii has had exclusive power over the mountain.

WONG-WILSON: This new act is the first time that native Hawaiians, cultural practitioners and the community really has an opportunity to sit at a decision-making table and help to govern this very important place.

FADEL: The groups will share management of Mauna Kea starting next year. Then the new body will have full control in 2028.

MARTINEZ: And that's when they'll begin negotiating new leases for telescopes. The current ones expire in 2033. Scientists say the next several years will be critical for the conservation of Mauna Kea and the future of astronomy on the Big Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS TO YOUR EYES' "UNDER THE GRID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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