Astronomers to return to Maunakea

Astronomers with the Maunakea Observatories will attempt to return to the summit for the first time in four weeks thanks to a new agreement with protesters occupying Maunakea Access Road.

According to a news release from TMT spokespeople, protesters at the Access Road agreed to let all observatory staff, including astronomers, up the mountain after Gov. David Ige rescinded an emergency proclamation regarding the protests last week.

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Observatory staff are allowed to use a side path across the lava to access the mountain, which some observatory representatives considered unsafe due to the high amount of tents and pedestrians along the unmarked path.

Since that agreement was made, traffic cones and cinder have been placed along the side path to address safety concerns, according to the news release. Larger vehicles will be allowed to ascend Maunakea using the Access Road, but will still be required to circumnavigate the tent blockade on the road itself.

Observatory officials hope the new arrangement will allow the observatories to return to full operations as soon as possible. However, according to the news release, observatories will still need to liaise with the protesters to notify them of what vehicles will go up the mountain and when.

“The interim solution for access to the telescopes is a step forward but remains inadequate for the long term,” said Ige in a statement. “The state remains committed to re-opening the Maunakea Access Road intersection as an immediate priority. The state stands behind the more than 500 employees’ efforts to bring the telescopes back online to begin astronomical observations again.”

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According to the news release, the observatories intend to send regular day crews to the summit to prepare the facilities to resume operations.

“The Maunakea Observatories thank the state and county for their statements of support for a continued vibrant astronomy sector in Hawai’i,” said Hilton Lewis, director of the W. M. Keck Observatory, in a statement. “We are deeply committed to our community here on Hawai’i Island and are eager to get back to work at our telescopes as soon as possible, to resume the world-leading astronomy for which Hawai’i is renowned.”

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