Concerns grow over leaving existing telescopes atop Mauna Kea unmanned

(Image: Keck Observatory)
(Image: Keck Observatory)
Published: Jul. 18, 2019 at 4:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days ago, all employees from the existing observatories atop Mauna Kea left the summit for safety reasons.

As a large protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope continues, they haven’t been able to return.

And that’s causing concern for observatory administrators, who say the telescopes need regular maintenance.

Rich Matsuda, chief of operations for the Keck Observatory, said seven of their technicians, scientists, and engineers were brought down from Mauna Kea as the protest continues.

Until they can go back, they’ve been working at offsite facilities in Waimea and Hilo.

But he said within days, personnel will have to return to the telescopes to ensure they’re maintained and working properly.

How they’ll do that is unclear.

Not only have protesters blocked the access road to the summit, the state has also formally closed the road to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Matsuda said the telescopes are made of very sensitive optics and instrumentation.

“Even though there are observatories that can observe remotely, meaning without people up there, if they run into serious technical issues then we need to be able to get technical staff up there,” he said.

He added none of the observatories are able to conduct scientific observations at night for now.

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