The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is holding their general assembly on Monday in Hawaii, to be attended by scientists from over 75 countries around the world. The meeting will be held amid strong protests from residents who are against the building of telescopes atop two mountains considered sacred by Native Hawaiians.
Protests have been sparked when workers tried to start construction on what is conceived to be the world’s largest telescope which is the Thirty Meter Telescope on Big Island’s Mauna Kea. Controversy was further stirred due to another construction of a solar telescope in Maui. Residents lament that this is an outright desecration of their ancestor’s burial grounds.
Protestors are not against any form of scientific advancement on astronomy. The issue borders on development, sovereignty and religious rights of the people from which they also demand respect.
The IAU on the other hand is holding its conference to discuss policies and offer scientific presentations to their attendees and are not in any way affiliated with the construction of the much protested telescopes. The Convention organizers would have wanted the attendees to visit Mauna Kea, as it was considered to be one of the world’s foremost sites for astronomy, and they wanted to showcase this fact to the scientists from other parts of the world. However, any such plans had to be cancelled since access roads to the mountains have been closed indefinitely due to the controversy.
Demonstrators hope to raise awareness of the attendees to the reason for their protests on the telescopes on Mauna Kea. A silent protest with residents holding signs will most likely greet the convention with the desire of airing out their grievances to this new endeavour.
Piero Benvenuti, the organization’s deputy general secretary, wrote in an email that the organization deeply respects the views of all parties concerned and further hopes that an open, productive dialogue by all parties involved be initiated so that a common, though long-term vision, be finally reached for Mauna Kea.